arrowSection 1.1 - Registration Rules

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Terri L. Enns

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College Students, Voter Registration, and Financial Aid

College students frequently report that they have been discouraged from voting in the precinct where they live during college. 1  In many cases, they state that they have been told that registering to vote could impact their financial aid, or that they must vote in the precinct where they resided before attending college, as their college home could not be their residence. 2  Neither of these statements is generally true. While the various states enact their own laws governing elections, college students often are able to vote in the precincts where they reside during college with no impact on their financial aid eligibility.

The following will briefly discuss Ohio regulations regarding student voter registration and the impact of voter registration on federal and Ohio financial aid.

In Ohio, where a person may vote is determined by where that person is a "resident." The Ohio Constitution states that "[e]very citizen of the United States, of the age of eighteen years, who has been a resident of the state, county, township, or ward, . . . and has been registered to vote for thirty days, has the qualifications of an elector, and is entitled to vote at all elections." 3  The Ohio Revised Code further states that a person must be a resident of the county and precinct in which the person wishes to vote. 4  Thus the location of a college student's residence is a key determination when registering to vote.

The Ohio Revised Code states that, for elections purposes, a residence is the place where the person's "habitation is fixed and to which, whenever the person is absent, the person has the intention of returning." 5  A person does not lose a residence if he or she leaves temporarily, with the intention of returning, nor does a person gain a residence when in a state or county "for temporary purposes only." 6 

In Ohio, college students may claim their college address as their residence. According to the Ohio Secretary of State's web site, a student may vote from the student's school address "if the student regards that place as his/her residence and registers to vote." 7  A student's voting residence is "the residence you claim as your home . . . ." 8  However, the Secretary of State goes on to suggest that students should "consult with your parents because each consideration of home may be different for each student." 9  Those "considerations" may include income tax filing status, scholarships based on living in a particular locale, and insurance coverage, among other implications. An additional consideration is that knowingly registering in a precinct where the person is not a qualified voter is a fifth degree felony in Ohio. 10 

With regard to federal financial aid, registering to vote does not affect eligibility for financial aid. Representatives from both the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Ohio Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators have informed Election Law @ Moritz that where a student registers to vote does not impact federal financial aid eligibility. Additionally, representatives from the Ohio Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators state that college financial aid officers do not check on the voter registration status of students.

A few private scholarships may exist that depend on a fixed residency, and voter registration may be a factor in determining that residency.

Students should note that each state may designate its own qualifications for voting, and the definitions of residence vary. Some courts have held unconstitutional special tests for students and presumptions against college addresses being a "residence." 11  The U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed one of these lower court decisions in a one-sentence order, without issuing an opinion that explains the Court's reasoning. 12  Students are advised to check with their Secretary of State for specific guidelines for establishing residency. It is fair to say, however, that any state laws burdening the ability of college students to declare residency where they attend college are likely to be looked upon with disfavor by the courts. This was true in Ohio, where both federal and state courts struck down Ohio's statutory provision that discriminated against college students in their ability to declare residency, and that provision has since been repealed. For further details, see here.

Possible scenarios:

Scenario One: Ohio State student who grew up in Ohio receives both federal and state financial aid, and wants to register to vote in Franklin County. Registering in Franklin County would have no impact on the student's federal or state financial aid.

Scenario Two: Ohio State student who grew up in California receives federal financial aid, is not yet an Ohio resident, and wants to register to vote in Franklin County. Registering in Franklin County will have no impact on federal financial aid, nor does the registration qualify the student for Ohio residency.

Scenario Three: UCLA student who grew up in Ohio, receives federal financial aid, and wants to register in LA County. Registering in LA County will have no impact on federal financial aid, nor does the registration qualify the student for CA residency.

Scenario Four: Ohio State student who grew up in Ohio, receives a private scholarship from the student's hometown chamber of commerce, and wants to register to vote in Franklin County. Student should contact the administrator of the scholarship to ensure that there is no impact on the private scholarship.

Scenario Five: Ohio State student who grew up in CA, receives federal financial aid and a private scholarship from the student's hometown chamber of commerce, and wants to register to vote in Franklin County. Student should contact the administrator of the scholarship to ensure that there is no impact on the private scholarship. Registering in Franklin County would have no impact on the student's federal or state financial aid.

 

Notes

1. "Students fight to register in college towns." CNN.com. August 30, 2004.

2. Jody Record, "UNH students say they were intimidated." Union Leader (Manchester NH) November 6, 2002; Damien Cave, "Mock the Vote," http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/5993354/mock_the_vote (last visited 2/14/06).

3. Ohio Const. Art. V, § 1.

4. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.01 (West Supp. 2004).

5. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.02(A) (West Supp. 2004).

6. Ohio Revised Code § 3503.02(B) and (C) (West Supp. 2004).

7. Ohio Secretary of State web site "Voter Services, Frequently Asked Questions." http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos//elections/index.html (last visited 9/7/04)

8. Id.

9. Id.

10. Ohio Revised Code § 3599.11(A) (West Supp. 2004).

11. See list at Scolaro v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, 691 A.2d 77, 86 (D.C. 1997).

12. In Symm v. United States, 439 U.S. 1105, 99 S.Ct. 1006 (1979), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld, without comment, a Texas district court holding that students should receive the same presumption of residency as other citizens.