Recent Graduate Testifies before Ohio Senate on Voter-Suppression Measure Affecting College Students

In an earlier post, “Please Sign Petitions Supporting the Voting Rights of College Students in Ohio and North Carolina” [https://academeblog.org/2013/05/11/please-sign-petitions-supporting-the-voting-rights-of-college-students-in-ohio-and-north-carolina/], I asked readers to sign a petition protesting against an attempt to discourage more than 32,000 out-of-state students attending Ohio universities from casting their ballots in Ohio.

What follows is the testimony of Stuart McIntyre, representing the Ohio Student Association to the Finance Committee of the Ohio Senate on this provision in the state’s budget bill.

OSA

Honorable Chairman Gardner and members of the committee,

My name is Stuart McIntyre.  I am a Columbus native, an Ohio State graduate, and an organizer with the Ohio Student Association.  The Ohio Student Association works with a diverse group of students at a dozen campuses across the state of Ohio to build power for young people so that we can be our own advocates for our social, economic and political well-being.  We are a non-partisan organization, and in the fall we registered more than 4,000 voters around the state, and knocked on more than 12,000 doors educating young people about critical issues, and encouraging them to participate in our democracy.  The post-election statistics speak for themselves.  Young voter turnout has reached an all-time high, and voters from 18-27 are quickly increasing as a share of the total electorate.  Our generation, which will be the largest in the history of the United States, are beginning to assert ourselves as citizens.

You would think that as member of this rising generation, and as an Ohio citizen with a deep commitment to my community, and a deep commitment to preparing young people for responsible democratic governance, I would be excited at the prospects of a democratic future in Ohio.  A future where a government by and for the people of Ohio will push our state forward into the 21st century.  But rather than being excited, I’m afraid to say that I am deeply troubled about the future of democracy in Ohio, deeply troubled.

Over the past few years, there has been a concerted effort in Ohio to make it more difficult for college students to vote.  Rather than encouraging and supporting programs to educate and to engage voters, and to make it easier for them to participate, many of the legislators that we’ve chosen to represent us across Ohio have done just the opposite.  They have made a concerted effort to make it more difficult for college students to vote.

As Kofi Annan says, “A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”  Not just in Ohio, but around the country, I have witnessed a systematic effort to make it more difficult for young people to vote, and let me tell you this: it’s already hard enough!  On November 6th, 2012 the Ohio Student Association was at the Ohio Union, the main polling place for Ohio State students.  The line was two hours long, stretching out and around the building, outside into the cold. Some students skipped class or called off of work just to stay in line so that they could have their vote counted.  Others got to the front of the line only to find out that they had received improper information, and their precinct was at another polling place altogether.  Our volunteers brought bagels, coffee, and humor to the students waiting in line.  But upon reflection, there is little humor in this situation.  There is little humor in the obstacles faced by young Ohioans across the state who simply want to exercise their right to democratically elect their representatives.

The most recent effort to make voting more difficult, ironically, comes as an amendment to the budget bill–in my eyes–an undemocratic method of passing legislation to limit democracy.  The amendment threatens state colleges and universities with the loss of revenue for providing students with documents needed to vote in their campus communities.  Either tens of thousands of students will be robbed of the right to vote in their community, or universities will be forced to part with nearly $300 million.  This is outrageous.

So far, the Ohio Student Association has collected nearly 700 signatures from students around the state demanding the removal of this amendment. Students usually spend at least four years away at college. They live under the laws of their new community. They contribute to the local economy and pay sales taxes. They work part-time and volunteer.  The motto of my alma mater–The Ohio State University–where I re-registered to vote, is “disciplina en civitatem” or Education for Citizenship.

If we truly value democratic government in this state we must educate young people for citizenship, and this education must be participatory.  Rather than creating barriers to participation we need to remove them.  I urge this legislature to consider the stakes.  Rather than making it more difficult for young people to be educated and actively engaged citizens in our state, we need to make it easier.  Why not consider increasing voter education in high schools and implementing pre-registration so that young people will be automatically registered once they turn 18?  Why not make our democracy more participatory, more accessible, and more robust?

Rather than driving young people away, we should be attempting to attract them to our state.  Making it more difficult for them to vote is not the right direction.  We collected nearly 1900 signatures in support of a budget amendment in the house modeled after bi-partisan legislation in Maine that created a tax credit to forgive student loan debt for Maine graduates who chose to stay in-state, and a tax credit for businesses who hired Maine graduates.  Now Maine is importing young people, creating jobs, and expanding its tax base. This is the direction in which we need to be moving.

Please consider the stakes and remove this amendment from the budget bill.  If we do not intentionally educate and engage my generation; if we do not make participation easier rather than more difficult, there will be serious consequences. As former president Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

I thank you for your time, and the opportunity to speak.

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