Drivers’ Licenses, Voter Registration, and Presidential Possibilities

This past week the Oregon legislature passed and the governor of that state signed legislation that would automatically register to vote every citizen with a driver’s license issued by the state.

I was going to write a post contrasting that law with a late amendment to Ohio’s transportation bill that would have required people from out-of-state to obtain an Ohio driver’s license and to register their vehicle with the state within 30 days to establish residency and thus be able to register to vote.

This measure, inserted by Senate Republicans just prior to passage of the bill, appeared to be designed to create barriers that would discourage out-of-state college students from voting in Ohio in the 2016 elections. Media reports estimated that as many as 100,000 students would have been affected.

If you recall, ahead of the 2014 elections, a similarly designed bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature to suppress voting by out-of-state students. If they live in dorms or if they share a apartment or rented home, those students may have none of the usual documents—primarily drivers’ licenses or utility bills–with which they could legally establish their residency in the state. Thus, the state has long provided colleges and universities with a form that they can provide to out-of-state students that will confirm that they meet the residency requirements to vote in the state. The 2014 law stated, however, that public colleges and universities that provided out-of-state students with such documentation would be forced to charge those students in-state tuition.

In a post on that law [], I reported that a very casual count of out-of-state enrollment at Ohio’s universities suggested that at least 32,000 students would be affected by that law. (Thus, the 100,000 estimate reported in various media sources would, I think, represent a maximum total: reflecting some increases in out-of-state enrollment, including out-of-state enrollment at the state’s public and private two-year colleges, and including out-of-state enrollment at the state’s many private four-year colleges and universities.) But, because of the public outcry about the bill and, I assume, much behind-the scenes pressure from the university presidents, that bill never passed in the legislature.

The more recent amendment to the transportation bill was, however, passed in the legislature. And on Wednesday, April 1, Gov. Kasich did sign the transportation budget bill into law–but not before he applied a line item veto to the controversial language that would have made it much more difficult for out-of-state college students to vote.

Governor Kasich should certainly be commended for doing the right thing and vetoing the language. Although I don’t wish to attribute purely ulterior motives to him, I think that it is fairly obvious that this is a further indication of his serious interest in the GOP presidential nomination.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post [] in response to an article titled “16 for ’16,” that profiled 16 supposedly viable candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. I argued in that post that no more than a handful of those candidates really have any credible chance of gaining the nomination, and I suggested that because each of the credible candidates has some serious liabilities, Governor Kasich might, in effect, be the last man standing—a political veteran who might emerge as a “native son” alternative at the national party convention in Cleveland.

I divided the 16 candidates into two groups: those who appeal to the Tea Party wing of the party and those who appeal to the corporate and Neocon wings of the party and will almost surely style themselves as “moderates.” The first group included Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. The second group included John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, George Patacki, Mitt Romney, and Marco Rubio. I made the case that out of the nine possibilities with Tea-Party appeal, only two actually have any realistic chances of securing the nomination: Rand Paul and Scott Walker, and that out of the seven possibilities with more “moderate” reputations, only Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Kasich were the only credible possibilities.

Last week, The Hill published another survey of the Republican field []. This list does, however, not simply add four additional candidates. The 2012 GOP presidential slate, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan–or one candidate from each group–has been eliminated, at least by the authors. That Romney’s quick reversal on the possibility that he would run again left the bigger hole in the GOP field is very evident in the fact that all six potential candidates now added to the field–Bob Ehrlich, Mark Everson, Carly Fiorino, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Peter King—are in the group of more “moderate” possibilities who appeal to the corporate and Neocon elements of the GOP.

None of the six additional candidates is, however, a credible possibility for the nomination. My major evidence to support this assertion is that I doubt that you could easily find ten acquaintances who know who Bob Ehrlich, Mark Everson, or Jim Gilmore are. Carly Fiorino, Lindsey Graham, and Peter King might have a little more name recognition, but none of them has anything approaching a national reputation, never mind a broad or readily defined national political base.

So, of the five candidates who I thought were credible, I think that Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich remain credible. It seems clear that between his plummeting popularity in New Jersey, the serious budget woes that the state is experiencing, and the ongoing investigations into “Bridgegate,” corruption in the Port Authority, and the mis-allocation or non-allocation of the Hurricane Sandi relief funds, Christie has now accumulated too many liabilities to claim that his appeal to independents and even Democrats offsets the lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy among “Tea Party” voters.

Less extremely, Rand Paul seems to have lost much visibility among the other much more visible candidates in the “Tea Party” group; Jeb Bush’s liabilities have been brought into clearer focus; and Scott Walker seems determined to make one tactical mistake after another even as the spotlight has been put on him as the apparent frontrunner—with one of those mistakes being his own assertion that he is indeed the frontrunner.

Walker just signed legislation making Wisconsin a “right to work” state. As recently as 2012, after he survived a recall election prompted by his gutting the union rights of public employees, Walker had stated that “right to work” legislation was not part of his political agenda. Time magazine recently ran a profile of him that included a graphic highlighting a half-dozen similar policy statements that he has made while governor and the legislation that he has subsequently signed in complete contradiction of those policy statements.

It’s not that John Kasich is completely incapable of saying contradictory or self-damaging things. Immediately ahead of the effort that rammed Senate Bill 5 through the Ohio legislature, the newly elected governor stated flatly that public employees and their unions could get on the bus he was driving or be run over. That memorable threat came back to haunt him when the legislation was overwhelmingly repealed by referendum. In a media appearance on that election night, he acknowledged that Ohio voters had spoken very loudly and that he heard them. Since that time, the legislature has passed some laws that have left Progressives disgusted—most notably severe restrictions on women’s right to choose that were attached at the eleventh hour to a budget bill.

But, for the most part, Kasich has very shrewdly made sure that no matter how far to the Right his positions actually are, there has been public attention to more radical proposals even father to the Right. He has also scrupulously avoided issues that might inflame Progressives and resurrect the now largely dormant opposition evident in the campaign to repeal Senate Bill 5. The cumulative effect has been that he has appeared to be a “moderate,” with control over most if not all elements of the Ohio GOP and with a broadening appeal to independents and even to Democrats. In this, he was, of course, helped immensely by the Democrats selection of a historically weak gubernatorial candidate in 2014. But Kasich has unarguably made the most of his opportunities. Ohio may not be doing any better economically than Wisconsin is, but whereas there is a sense in Wisconsin that the state’s economic position is continuing to erode, in Ohio there is a general sense that things are getting better economically—incrementally, rather than dramatically, better, but better nonetheless.

The Columbus Dispatch, which has a conspicuously Conservative slant, just ran a lead story about Kasich’s widening lead as the primary choice of the state’s Republican voters for the presidential nomination.

It is almost certainly hoping for too much, but I would like to suggest to Governor Kasich that if he really wants to broaden his appeal and do something that will single him out among the GOP contenders, he should promote legislation such as that passed in Oregon—using drivers’ licenses to register Ohioans to vote and perhaps going even a step farther than Oregon has gone in using state tax returns or some other routinely filed documents to insure that all U.S. citizens living in our state, whether they hold drivers’ licenses or not, are automatically registered to vote. Given the great advancements in digital data collection and analysis, the state could surely give a grant to the new data center at Ohio State University to develop the software that would allow the secretary of state’s office to collate whatever existing data is required to make voter registration in Ohio as accurate, as secure, as automatic, and as universal as possible.


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