Why using Ohio BMV list to register voters misses many: far fewer young people drive

Cleveland.com,  September 9, 2019

"In a push to boost voter registration, Ohio last month mailed postcards with how-to instructions to 120,000 unregistered young adults identified through driver’s license and state ID records.

It’s an outreach from the Secretary of State’s office that received praise from voting rights activists. Yet, the same advocates acknowledge this type of recruiting leaves a growing gap that should be addressed.

Why? Increasing numbers of young people aren’t getting driver’s licenses. And many people don’t buy a state ID, or need to do so early in life. Earlier research focusing on voter ID laws indicate lower income people and minorities could disproportionately be left out of programs geared toward such forms of identification.

Among 18-year-olds nationally, only 62% have driver’s licenses, continuing a decades-long trend of fewer people getting their license early in life, according to federal data for 2017. This is a drop from 77% in 1987.

The same trend is true for 19-year-olds - 72% licensed in 2017, down from 81% in 1987 - and for 20-24-year-olds - 80% licensed in 2017, down from 89% in 1987.

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It’s unclear from available Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle records how many people have one or the other - a driver’s license or an ID - a BMV spokeswoman said. For example, a person could obtain a license after first getting an ID, but be counted in both lists. Others may no longer live in Ohio but still show up in the totals the state tabulates.

But, at the very least, 17% of Ohio’s 18-year-olds don’t have either a driver’s license or a state ID, cleveland.com calculated based on BMV records and census age estimates.

[Executive Director of the Ohio League of Women Voters Jen Miller] said the number left out is sizable, perhaps close to 11% of all adults.

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Overall, close to 87% of Ohio adults had driver’s licenses in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Transportation driver data and census population estimates by age.

But the share varies greatly by age, from 66% for 18-year-olds, to 81% for those in their 20s, and to 91% or greater for those in age groups from 45-49 through 70-74.

The potential problem extends to another issue involving voter registration in Ohio. One of the easiest ways to update a voter registration is by submitting a form online. But that can only be done by people with an Ohio driver’s license or official Ohio ID card.

[Ohio director for All Voting is Local Mike Brickner] said many young people without licenses also do not have Ohio ID’s, which cost $8.50. Some may have other IDs that aren’t accepted to complete the process online. Those without the required IDs must mail in forms or update their voter registration in other ways.

Many people without a license don’t get an ID because it’s not needed. For example, a person can instead provide a passport when establishing a banking account." 

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