Ohio voter ID law has caused controversy and confusion, but Kent State University offers student voters an easy solution.
It’s called the Zero Utility Bill, and it helps students get to the polls by meeting the requirement for an original copy of a current utility bill, said Evan Gildenblatt, Executive Director of the Kent State Undergraduate Student Government.
“It gives them proof of ID and proof of address at the same time, and it’s accepted by the state,” Gildenblatt said.
USG, along with Residence Services and a host of student political organizations, has organized an “exhausting” voter registration and education campaign.
Students living on campus can visit KSU’s website and search “zero utility” to fill out a short form and receive the $0.00 bill that fulfills the state requirement under House Bill 3. The form will be delivered by email 24 hours later.
“We want students to be educated, to be knowledgeable and to have their voices heard,” said Daniel Shonk,Assistant Director for Assignments and Marketing in KSU Residence Services.
KSU isn’t the first to offer such a workaround. In the 2008 primary election, Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio, offered its students a similar bill so they could vote.
Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Ohio, of Ohio’s 68th House District, said that HB 3 makes voting particularly difficult for students, who often vote away from the address given on their state ID.
“I think that anything that a state university does to try to assist the students—to ensure that their right to vote is protected and that they’ll have the appropriate ID—is a very good thing,” Clyde said.
Clyde has been a vocal critic of HB 3, even writing an admonishing letter to the editorial staff of Kent State Student Media when it published a column in favor of the law.
The laundry list of requirements under HB 3 includes any government-issued photo ID (like driver’s licenses and military IDs) that match the address at which you’re registered to vote. Also usable are government-issued checks, bank statements and utility bills, as previously mentioned.
Because student addresses often change by semester or year, student IDs are not considered valid by HB 3, which Gildenblatt said takes away “the right to voice our opinions and the right to elect our leaders.”
Meanwhile, Clyde said she wants to partner with KSU to fight against even stricter voting regulations and educate voters on what they can do to get to the polls.
“There (are) safeguard(s) in place, but often people don’t know that,” Clyde said.
Safeguards like absentee and provisional ballots. With an absentee ballot, Gildenblatt said, all you need is your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Provisional ballots, Clyde said, are a last line of defense for voters with no other options. If they don’t have any of the valid forms of ID, they can fill out a provisional ballot.
“They oftentimes aren’t counted,” Gildenblatt said. “It really calls into question the transparency of our voting process.”
He said it’s “extremely important” to get everybody to vote. That’s why Kent State USG partnered student and faculty organizations like the College Democrats, College Republicans and Black United Students to raise awareness.
“It was really a collaborative effort on the part of, really, everyone at this university,” Gildenblatt said. “I’m confident that we’ve made a difference and will continue to make a difference.”