COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – With less than a month before Ohio’s single-issue August special election, voting rights organizations have their eyes on a population facing one of the “trickiest” paths to the polls: College students – particularly those from out of state.

College students are eligible to vote in the community they attend school, regardless of whether they hail from Ohio. Nationally, about 20% of college student voters are out-of-state students, according to a 2022 Fair Elections Center survey

But Ohio’s photo identification requirement for in-person voting complicates the picture.

Under a policy passed last General Assembly – in a bill originally penned to eliminate August special elections – Ohio voters intending to vote in person are required to present a valid photo ID at their polling location. 

Acceptable forms of identification include an Ohio driver’s license or military ID. Addresses on IDs do not have to match voter registrations, but out-of-state licenses do not qualify, muddying the waters for thousands of Ohio’s post-secondary students who travel to the state for school.

“They are in one of the trickiest spots under our new voting laws,” said Greer Aeschbury, Ohio senior campaign manager for All Voting is Local.

Aeschbury and All Voting is Local work with the Ohio Voting Rights Coalition, a group of voting rights advocates aiming to boost voting accessibility for underrepresented groups in the voting population, including voters of color, disabled voters and young voters. Its ranks include the ACLU of Ohio, League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Fair Elections Center and Voting Rights Lab.

The coalition – which opposes the only item on the August ballot, an issue to raise the threshold for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to pass – developed a subcommittee on the election changes that has met every other week since January.

Photo ID requirements can place greater burdens on low-income, disabled, homeless and other populations less likely to have a license or passport. Ohio’s election law established free state ID cards for those without licenses – but college students from out of state should pause before heading to the BMV for one.

Obtaining a state ID card nullifies all driver’s licenses, a BMV spokesperson confirmed. Under the law – which is standard across states – people must surrender all licenses, temporary instruction permits and state ID cards when applying for a new ID.

Students from out of state who apply for an Ohio driver’s license may also run into issues with their schools. Forfeiting another state’s ID may change a student’s residency status, which can impact financial aid and tuition, Aeschbury said.

“There’s a big danger there for students who don’t realize they’re compromising something that they need,” Aeschbury said.

Aeschbury said the coalition learned of the ID nullification after speaking with BMV officials, after Ohio’s new election ID requirements were signed into law. She believes the legislation’s consequences weren’t thoroughly considered before it passed.

“It was a law that was rushed through our legislatures, so the implications are still being uncovered right now,” Aeschbury said.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose touted the changes as improving election security, citing high approval rates among voters. A Secretary of State spokesperson told NBC4 voting for college students is “not an issue” — they have a few options to cast their ballots.

How college students can vote in Ohio

The easiest way for college students to vote – particularly in an election before most of them return to school for fall – is by requesting an absentee ballot.

Voters are not required to provide photo IDs when voting absentee, according to the Ohio Secretary of State website. Instead, they can provide the last four digits of their Social Security Number.

Still, the majority of college student voters opt for in-person voting; nearly 40% of college students vote in person on election day, the Fair Elections Center survey found. 

For those wishing to vote in person, although Ohio doesn’t accept other states’ licenses, it accepts multiple forms of identification, including:

  • U.S. passport or passport card
  • U.S. military ID card
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ID card
  • Ohio National Guard ID card

While existing passport holders can renew their passports for free, new applicants must pay a $130 fee. Passport cards, which cost $30, are ineligible for air travel and can only be used to enter Canada, Mexico, Caribbean countries or Bermuda.

The U.S. Department of State warns that passport processing times are delayed due to record-high demand. The current estimated wait of 10 to 13 weeks is likely to remain through the rest of the year.

Voting absentee may not be the most swift process, either. Between requesting an absentee ballot to send it to a county board of elections, voting through the mail can become a waiting game with the U.S. Postal Service.

Aeschbury recommends requesting an absentee ballot as early as possible ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline – and sending that ballot back immediately.

You can request an absentee ballot here.