I play two roles in the Knox County community. As chairman of the Knox County Democratic Party, I work to involve all members of our community, not just a select few, in our democracy. And as a member of the Knox County Board of Elections, I have sworn an oath to protect voting rights. It is my duty to do everything in my power to ensure free and fair elections–and to make sure all voters can vote with as little difficulty as possible.
Access to the ballot box is a cornerstone of our democracy. Cynical interests too often attempt to erect artificial barriers to make it harder for some groups to vote. They make all kinds of claims to justify their voter suppression. They say they want to protect the system from fraud. Or they want to ensure uniformity across the state. Or, as in the most recent case of voter suppression in Ohio, they claim they want to raise revenue to pay for our state’s transportation system. All of these claims have been raised as justifications for laws that make it more difficult for Ohioans to vote.
The latter claim was made this week to justify a last-minute, ill-conceived amendment to HB 53, Ohio’s transportation budget bill. The Republican-led Senate inserted a measure that requires college students from out of state and studying in Ohio to pay to register their vehicles in Ohio and obtain an Ohio driver’s license if they register to vote in this state. This measure is an obvious attempt to keep these students from voting, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of students to vote in the state in which they attend college.
Predictably, Republicans are claiming innocence, saying this is merely a common-sense measure and not the radical departure from long-standing law that it is. Secretary of State Jon Husted–the very man whose job it is to protect the right to vote–dismissed concerns about this bill as “hysteria.” Hysteria? No, Secretary Husted, those of us who are opposed to a last-minute, surprise attack on the voting rights of young Ohio adults are not peddling hysteria.
We in Ohio must welcome with open arms the young men and women who choose to move to our state for at least nine months out of the year. We must embrace the interest that thousands of these students show in our communities by registering to vote, volunteering in political campaigns, meeting candidates, and getting to know the issues. We must encourage students to become involved in civic affairs and to start a lifelong commitment to democracy.
We must not tell these students that they are less than full citizens, that their participation is not welcome in Ohio.
The Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly–and the Republican secretary of state–are continuing down a dangerous road by enacting this measure. If they do not undo this law themselves, then the courts of this state must weigh in and stop this voter suppression from taking effect. And all Ohioans must call their representatives and demand that these voter suppression measure stop once and for all.
R. Adam Gilson
Chairman, Knox County Democratic Party