Under the Radar: How Ohio’s Voter Suppression Bill Hurts Students

Hannah Baptiste
July 18, 2011

The Republican controlled Ohio
state legislature passed HB 194, a controversial election reform bill
earlier this month. The bill includes provisions that shorten the early
voting period and prevent counties from determining how best to
facilitate voting in their own jurisdictions. For example, the bill
prohibits counties from providing Sunday voting hours or sending out
absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, something that
several of the largest urban counties found useful in previous elections
(instead, they will only be able to send applications to those who
specifically request them).With the new rules going swiftly into effect
just in time for the 2012 elections, and with no requirement for voter
education on the new changes, the bill appears designed to limit ballot
access for the groups that rely most on these options, such as urban,
low-income, and minority voters.

Ohio’s
omnibus voter suppression bill has attracted the attention of citizens
and advocates across the country, but there is one troubling addition to
Ohio’s HB
194 that few may be aware of. The “Miscellaneous” section of HB 194
explicitly prohibits any public school from transporting students to a
polling place during regular school hours for the purpose of casting a
ballot. By forbidding schools from mobilizing students during school
hours when they are most accessible, this strict ban places unnecessary
restriction on youth voters and denies the chance for fair and unbiased
nonpartisan civic education.

The
push to regulate against public schools busing students to vote on
Election Day began after the 2010 midterm elections. A social studies
teacher from Hughes High School in Cincinnati allowed students to be transported to the polls
without authorized supervision, a violation of district field trip
policy. The incident was met with outrage by some Republicans after it
was learned that the students were shown only Democratic sample ballots,
which prompted allegations
that the Cincinnati school district was in conspiracy with Democrats to
“indoctrinate young people for their electoral purposes.”

School
officials stated that students were given only Democratic literature
because a Republican campaign worker declined to provide literature. The
district maintained that they were not interested in partisan politics.
While school officials at Hughes High School did in fact violate field trip policy, to charge that it exposed efforts by the Cincinnati
school district to pressure young voters is a willful distortion of the
matters of the case. The district swiftly took several corrective
measures following the incident; disciplinary action was taken against
the school officials in question and a court order signed by a county
judge barred the district from using any personnel or property of the
public school system to advocate for a particular candidate or party.

Despite the court order, former House of Representatives member Thomas Brinkman pressed forward on a lawsuit
to issue a permanent injunction against students being subjected to
partisan activities during school hours. Less than a year later,
Brinkman’s position against students being transported to the polls
would be echoed by Ohio legislators in HB 194.

With young people voting at lower rates than any other sector of society, schools can and should play a role in facilitating student’s civic involvement in a non-partisan manner. The Cincinnati
school teachers with whom the controversy originated were trying to
increase political participation among their students, most of who come
from low income minority families. Brinkman’s unrelenting belief that
the school district was conspiring with Democrats to unduly influence
students has now led to a statewide policy that goes far beyond
protecting students from partisan pressure. Instead, prohibiting schools
from opting to bring students to the polls places an unnecessary
restriction on civic education and participation opportunities for
students across Ohio. With HB 194, lawmakers sought to limit the franchise, and students didn’t escape the cut.

 


This article originally appeared on the Fair Elections Legal Network blog.  It is reprinted here with permission.

 


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