If the GOP wants to “re-brand,” it might start by trying to win elections by attracting new voters, rather than by trying to win elections by suppressing Democratic turnout. Not only have these voter-suppression efforts ended up being counterproductive—making affected voters all the more determined to exercise their right to vote—but they have diminished the enthusiasm of moderate Republicans and Independents for the GOP and its increasingly immoderate candidates and tactics. The GOP simply cannot assert that it is the party that stands for the preservation of fundamental American rights and at the same time engage in legislative gimmicks that are very clearly intended to eliminate the right to vote for individuals in those demographic groups most likely to vote for Democrats.
In 2012, the “voter fraud” claim was used to justify much stricter voter registration requirements, but it backfired when it became clear to just about everyone that the supposed problem was almost nonexistent and that, to the extent that the problem existed at all, the proposed solution created many more issues than it solved. (On a common sense level, I think that most people recognized that given how hard it is to convince many people to exercise their right to vote, it just doesn’t gibe that any significant number of people would be bothering to vote multiple times.)
So, ahead of the next election cycle, the GOP legislatures in North Carolina and Ohio are engaging in more limited, more targeted, and clearly more Machiavellian attempts to suppress the votes of college students, a group that went heavily for Obama and other Democrats in 2012. Clearly, suppressing the college vote will open the close margin by which the GOP carried North Carolina in 2012, and it will close the narrow margin by which Democrats carried Ohio in 2012.
The two legislatures are employing different tactics that reflect the same basic, broader strategy (if ALEC is not the source of this crap, I will eat a hat—preferably one with cheese on it). In North Carolina, the legislation stipulates that if a residential college student registers to vote in the district in which his school is located, that student’s parents cannot claim a tax deduction for that student as their dependent. In other words, for the deduction to be maintained, the student will have to maintain a voter registration in the district in which his or her parents live and either cast an absentee ballot or travel back that district to vote.
In Ohio, the state’s own voter-information site states that college students can provide a letter from the school to establish that they have residency and are eligible to vote, and schools have readily provided such letters in an effort to encourage voter participation among their students. But the new legislation stipulates that if a school now provides an out-of-state student with such a letter, the school must then charge that student the in-state tuition rate. The in-state tuition rate is currently $15,500 less than the out-of-state rate at Ohio State. Out-of-state students will have to provide other proof of residence (many of the options are less readily available to dorm students, who do not individually pay utility bills and may not have Ohio drivers licenses) or vote by absentee ballots in their home states.
GOP lawmakers in both states have, of course, protested that these are simply “common sense” tweaks to existing laws. But, in the case of the Ohio legislation, this “tweak” is hypocritical. As state support for the public colleges and universities has dropped to about 20% of the cost to educate in-state students, those institutions have increasingly engaged in very aggressive recruiting of out-of-state students. Not only are those students paying higher tuitions that have allowed the lower in-state tuitions to be sustained, but they are also contributing significantly to the state’s overall economy.
I think that most Ohioans will be surprised by the numbers in the following chart.
|University 2013 Enrollment Out-of-State Students|
|Ohio State University 59,091 12% [7,090]|
|Kent State University 42,185 11% [4,640]|
|University of Cincinnati 41,357 10% [4,135]|
|Ohio University 35,324 10% [3,532]|
|University of Akron 29,251 3% |
|University of Toledo 20,775 13% [2,700]|
|Bowling Green State 18,989 11% [2,088]|
|Wright State University 18,786 3% |
|Cleveland State University 17,204 3% |
|Miami University 17,161 30% [5,148]|
|Youngstown State 14,682 9.6% [1,409]|
For those of you who are not human calculators, that means that this legislation will affect more than 32,000 students at Ohio’s public universities, the great majority of whom are concentrated in the state’s largest cities, which are the most Democratic parts of the state.
And if 32,000 votes seems insignificant in a state with a population of more than 11,000,000, bear in mind that Obama carried Ohio by just 166,272 votes—and the affected college students represent about 20% of that margin.
Finally, if this sort of political calculation seems beneath any serious policymaker, just take a close look at the gerrymandered districts that resulted from the 2010 redistricting. Those districts were cut in ways that sometimes split not just neighborhoods but, in some instances, city blocks.