Ohio’s colleges and universities are always eager to attract out-of-state students, who may pay higher tuition rates and help boost enrollments as the state’s population declines. And business leaders hope these students turn into tax-paying, in-demand, job-working state residents. The phrase “attract and retain” seems to pop up at every discussion about talent pipelines. 

But a new state law may make those efforts harder. 

There will be fewer types of identification accepted at election polls in Ohio, potentially making it more difficult for college students to cast ballots and be civically engaged.

Under House Bill 458, gone are the days of showing a utility bill or bank statement with a current Ohio address. Instead, only three types of ID will suffice: a U.S. passport or passport card, an unexpired state photo ID such as a driver’s license, or a military ID card. 

Prior to enrolling at Case Western Reserve University, Pennsylvania native Giuseppe Llovet-Nava’s first and only trip to the Buckeye State was an eighth-grade pilgrimage to the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. 

Now, the first-year student likes the life he’s carving out for himself in University Circle. So much, in fact, that he could picture himself living here after graduation.  He really likes “medium-size” cities like Cleveland, he said. They feel  similar to his hometown of Pittsburgh.

The passage of HB 458, though, concerns him. Navigating the process to let go of his Pennsylvania driver’s license to get an Ohio one could be complicated and costly, he said. And while Llovet-Nava is one of the 37% of estimated Americans who has a passport, he said he doesn’t want to keep an important document on campus. 

“Suppressing student voices is just teaching future, complete adults that it’s OK to be suppressed or that their voices shouldn’t be heard,” he said. 

Across town at Cleveland State University, fellow first-year student Justin Samsa is spending his time posted up at voter registration tables in the university’s student center. He’s a democracy fellow with CSU’s Office of Civic Engagement. 

One of his recent projects was crafting a social media post outlining what this legislation means for his peers. Like Samsa, most of Cleveland State’s students come from Ohio, though there are a growing number of international students and an uptick in recruiting efforts targeting states such as New York and Pennsylvania. 

Students who support these new laws may consider the changes a plus as they weigh staying in the state versus moving, he said. But not everyone may share those feelings. 

“If they do see it as an inconvenience to voting or anything like that, any negative, that kind of comes to represent the entire state as a whole,” he said. 

Samsa pointed out there are already barriers impacting all college students, like finding time in their packed schedules to vote. Forty-two percent of Gen-Z and 30% of Millennials said they “forgot or were too busy” to participate in the 2022 midterms, according to data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. 

There are other challenges, too, including securing transportation to an off-campus polling location and securing childcare for student-parents.  

Collegians aren’t the only group affected by these changes. The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the legislation “anti-voter” because it will add barriers for people to vote and could discourage them altogether. The ACLU said the law is one of the strictest voter ID measures in the country. 

Roughly eight in 10 Americans polled in a July 2021 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey supported requiring photo identification to vote. Those results were cited in a January news release from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who called these stricter requirements a “common-sense way” that “ensures voters are not disenfranchised.” 

This legislation brings other changes, too, including axing August special elections, getting rid of early voting on the Monday before Election Day, and shortening the window for absentee voting. 

It’s a lot of moving parts. And that’s the biggest barrier Anita Ruf-Young sees as the director of Cleveland State’s Office of Civic Engagement. The office does not tell students who or what to vote for, she said, stressing it’s a strictly nonpartisan effort. All of the work goes into helping students figure out how to cast a ballot.

“A lot of these college students are just voting for the first time, or about to, and all of a sudden, they’re trying to figure out all this information,” she said. 

Though there are challenges to this new law, it’s currently set to go into effect a few days after Ohio’s voter registration deadline of April 3. This gives time to get more context out ahead of May’s primary elections for all Ohio residents, including collegians. 

Ruf-Young and her team at Cleveland State, for example, will continue doing things such as staffing those voter registration and information tables, providing current information online, and supplying hard copies of resources to the campus’ library to help students make their voting plans. 

“If we get them to participate now, they’re more likely to participate for the rest of their lives,” she said. 

Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.