WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with U.S. Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9), Joyce Beatty (D-OH-3), Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Elections, sent a letter to Ohio College and University Presidents urging them to take steps to ensure the institutions they represent ease any barriers for their respective faculty, students, and staff to vote.

“Your institutions have the opportunity to play an essential role in ensuring that young Americans participate in our democracy by taking simple steps such as designating places where students can complete voter registration forms or absentee ballot requests. Colleges can text students where these one-stop election stations are located and can e-mail students a voter registration link,” wrote the lawmakers.

The 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA) helped increase access to higher education for low-income and first-generation college students. In 1998, recognizing the importance of involving younger generations in the democratic process, HEA reauthorization specified that institutions must make a good faith effort to facilitate student voter registration. This reinforced the vital role institutions of higher education play in educating and encouraging students to vote.

Earlier this month, Brown, Kaptur, Beatty, Ryan, and Fudge sent a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose urging him to comply with a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas’ ruling directing him to allow multiple secure ballot drop boxes in each county. Last month, in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis and the Trump administration’s attempts to undercut the United States Postal Service (USPS), Secretary LaRose inexplicably banned county boards of elections from providing more than one ballot drop box for completed absentee ballots. He acted to ban additional secure drop boxes at the same time that absentee ballot applications were “pouring into Ohio’s boards of elections at an unprecedented rate.” In August Brown, Kaptur, Beatty, Fudge, and Ryan sent a letter to Sec. LaRose urging him to reconsider his decision, explaining his clear authority to permit multiple drop boxes in each county. This authority was affirmed by the Franklin County Court’s ruling on Tuesday.  

Brown, Kaptur, Fudge, Beatty, and Ryan also sent a letter to Secretary LaRose asking him to use his existing authority to prepay postage for absentee ballots and ballot applications for the upcoming 2020 General Election in Ohio. The lawmakers also urged Sec. LaRose to communicate with the Postal Service to ensure ballots that originate in Ohio are delivered on time, with visible postmarks, and do not succumb to delays and cost cutting measures, which could endanger timely delivery of vote by mail ballots.

Full text of the letter sent today can be found here and below:

 

September 22, 2020

Dear Ohio College and University Presidents,

As our State continues to grapple with the challenges presented by COVID-19, our nation is relying on Ohio’s colleges and universities to take a leadership role in ensuring access to the ballot box. This duty is particularly important as we commemorate national voter registration day on September 22, 2020.[1] Your institutions play a key role in ensuring that students understand how to access and exercise their constitutionally enshrined right to vote. Under normal circumstances, students face barriers to voting, and in these difficult times, those barriers have multiplied. We ask that each of you to take steps to ensure your institution commits to easing barriers for your faculty, students and staff to vote.

As we know, the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA) helped increase access to higher education for low-income and first-generation college students. In 1998, recognizing the importance of involving younger generations in the democratic process, Congress expanded the scope of the act to include provisions on student voting. Section 487(a)(23) of the HEA as reauthorized in 1998 specified that institutions must make a good faith effort to facilitate student voter registration.  This reinforced vital role institutions of higher education play in educating and encouraging students to vote.

Your institutions have the opportunity to play an essential role in ensuring that young Americans participate in our democracy by taking simple steps such as designating places where students can complete voter registration forms or absentee ballot requests. Colleges can text students where these one-stop election stations are located and can e-mail students a voter registration link. 

Institutions should share broad voter education information about how to vote, including the following: 

  • Communicate to your students to ensure they are registered to vote and that their registration information is up to date.
  • Explain Ohio's voter ID requirements directly to students and staff with emails, posters or mailers. Students driver's license may be expired this year, but the Ohio legislature authorized individuals to vote with an expired license, which students, faculty and staff may not know.[2]
  • Clarify that if a student's current address varies from where they registered when they go to vote, they can vote absentee, with the mailer sent to another address, or they can vote provisionally if they can prove their address.[3]
  • Be prepared to educate students on how to vote by mail or vote provisionally in the event that campuses close due to the pandemic. 
  • Make clear to students that where you register to vote will not affect federal financial aid such as Pell Grants, Perkins or Stafford loans, or your dependency status for FAFSA; being registered to vote at a different address from your parents does not prevent them from claiming you as a dependent on their taxes; and being deemed out-of-state for tuition purposes does not prevent you from choosing to register to vote in your campus community.
  • Provide faculty, staff, and students with information about how to volunteer as poll workers.

Students, faculty and staff at your institutions need the type of nonpartisan voter information described in this letter. In a time where voter disinformation is rampant, your colleges and universities have not only a legal obligation, but also a moral obligation to make your campuses an example of democratic participation. Thank you for your leadership and for taking every step possible to ease the barriers of voting for eligible voters on your campuses.

Sincerely,

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