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Ohio State student voters face unclear registration laws

Cameron Weimer / Lantern photographer

As the November presidential election draws closer, amid the seemingly incessant campaign advertisements is another more bipartisan campaign working to get students registered to vote.
However, for Ohio State students not from Columbus or Ohio, knowing what address to register at might be confusing.
A student may register to vote at his or her school address “if the student regards that place as his/her residence and registers to vote. Otherwise, the student must vote in his/her home community if registered,” according to the Franklin County Board of Elections. Residence is defined by Ohio law as “the place to which, whenever you are absent, you have the intent to return.”
If students claim their campus address as their residence, they must “intend to remain here indefinitely,” said Paul Beck, an OSU political science professor.
OSU political science professor Richard Gunther said when students register at their school address, “their registration at their permanent address will eventually be canceled, so students should not attempt to vote there.”
This definition of home and what students classify as their residence, can be confusing for many.
“Voter registration laws are ambiguous when it comes to student voting,” Beck said. “Election officials have been lenient in their interpretations of permanency, allowing students to register at their campus address.”
A voter’s residence determines which offices and issues they are eligible to vote on. This is particularly important in this year’s presidential election because many believe Ohio’s outcome will play a crucial role in determining who will be the next president.
Some students chose to vote absentee rather than change the address of their voter registration while attending school.
Austin Rausch, a fourth-year in computer and information science, is registered to vote in his hometown of Marysville, Ohio.
Rausch said he has voted absentee in previous elections while being in school and plans to vote absentee in the November election.
Kelly Hurlburt, a third-year in dance, said she has not voted in any election while at OSU and “probably won’t” vote in the November election. Hurlburt is registered in her hometown of Middletown, Ohio.
However, Hurlburt said she would vote if she was registered in Columbus.
“It would definitely make it easier,” she said.
An additional source of confusion might occur if the address that appears on a student’s driver’s license does not match the student’s election registration address.
“To guard against that source of confusion, it would be best for students to bring to the polling place a copy of a utility bill with their campus-area address,” Gunther said.
Thirty-eight states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia have laws that incorporate some kind of student choice into where a student can register to vote, according to an article published in 2006 by the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University in Maryland.
“The student vote needs to be counted,” said Vytautas Aukstuolis, a second-year in public affairs. Aukstuolis is a student volunteer for the Obama campaign and works on campus getting students to register to vote.
“We definitely do want (students) to know what their options are,” Aukstuolis said.
Though he works for President Barack Obama’s campaign, he said he does not try to sway students to vote for Obama when they register.
“I know I’ve registered a lot of Republicans,” Aukstuolis said.
Obama has visited OSU’s campus four times in the last two years, his latest visit to Columbus was Sept. 17 where he gave a campaign speech in German Village. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has never visited OSU’s campus, but is scheduled to make a campaign stop Wednesday morning in Westerville, Ohio, about 20 minutes from OSU.  

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