Kent State students attempting to register to vote at their campus address might be running into trouble registering online.
The online registration system in Ohio uses the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to verify addresses. If students attempt to register under their campus address, a message will appear saying their dorm address is invalid and the application can’t be processed. That is, unless their drivers license has their campus address on it.
In an email to KentWired’s media partner TV2 on Friday, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that “Ohio law requires the information that a new voter submits via our website to match what the Ohio BMV system has on file. If the information does not match, a voter will be directed to complete the paper voter registration form.”
Student governments around the state have been attempting to fix what they see as a barrier that prevents students from registering to vote.
“In my personal view, I think this is a form of voter suppression for our young voters,” said Tiera Moore, president of Undergraduate Student Government (USG). “Many college students, the address on their driver’s license is not the address they live at. They get their driver’s license in high school and then they move somewhere for college. And often, when you’re in college, you move somewhere new maybe your whole four years. A lot of people move around a lot.”
Moore and Ethan Lower, the USG director of governmental affairs, do have plans to meet with LaRose early next week to discuss the issue.
“We are working with other student governments to advocate for this issue, to inform more people and see what we can do at the state level to get it changed,” Moore said. “We’re working on it still. It’s a process, but we’re hoping to get somewhere with our Secretary of State before the deadline for registration.”
While Moore has only heard from a few students who have had difficulty registering to vote, she fears that might be because many students stop trying to register to vote after not being able to online.
“A lot of students that face that issue, they might not reach out because they feel defeated,” Moore said. “We’ve heard from a few, but not a ton.”
There are other options for students to register to vote. One option is to go to the USG offices and pick up a registration form there.
“We keep (paper registration forms) on hand,” Moore said. “So if we hear of students having difficulties, we can say ‘stop by our office and pick them up.’”
Students should also be able to register online if they download a “zero balance” utility bill that shows proof of address. Students can find this utility bill by signing into their housing account. Once there, they can click the link on the screen that says “get proof of residency.”
“The one thing we’ve been encouraging our students here in Kent to do, especially the on-campus students, is they can actually get a utility bill printed that is used as a proof of address for the dorms,” Moore said. “And one thing they can do is go in and change that address to match the one on their drivers license. That way, they have a proof of address that matches and they don’t have to change their driver’s license.”
Moore instructs the students to have a printed copy of their utility bill ready when they go in and vote.
“The dorm addresses are already very complicated, and that whole process is a little complicated for our students, so it’s not a perfect solution,” Moore said. “We’re just trying to have them do something that’s easier than changing their driver’s license address.”
The third option is to do it the “old-fashioned way” and register to vote through the mail.
“Absentee ballot applications are pretty readily available,” said Terry Nielsen, deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections. “If they’re Kent State students, they’re available at the library. All you have to do is go to the library and fill out the form and leave it there and they will bring it to our office. So I know it’s not necessarily as convenient as it would be to do it online, but it’s a way to get it done.”
However, this year COVID-19 has made it more difficult for the library to help students register to vote. Usually, the Kent State library will table throughout the fall in order to help students register. This year, they have not been able to table and it has been difficult for them to hand students registration forms in the library.
“My staff is not prepared for that,” said Kara Robinson, the associate dean of University Libraries. “They’re dealing with compliance issues in the building. In a normal year, absolutely, we have those at the desk, no problem. But we are trying to avoid handing people paper and taking paper.”
Robinson encourages students to register to vote and her staff is still looking into ways to help students register.
No matter how someone chooses to register to vote in Ohio, they must be registered by Oct. 5. You can check your registration status online.
Gina Butkovich is a managing editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.