Five Granville residents question the legitimacy of Denison students’ votes

ALINA PANEK — Five Granville residents, Lisa Englefield, Paul Jenks, Paul Rice, Victoria Sugar-Kessler, and William Wilken, signed a letter claiming Licking County Board of Elections and its poll workers in Granville Village Precinct C allowed Denison University students to cast ballots in the general election without a form of identification.

The letter dated Nov. 17 cited the inappropriate acception of utility bills by poll workers and one of the complantiants, Paul Jenks, said to the Newark Advocate, “It’s not one of the accepted forms of identification.” Jenks referred to Ohio Secretary of State’s posting of  Directive 2008-80. Jenks said there hasn’t been an update to the directive since 2008.

The letter argued that the Secretary of State had approved “a wide range of particular and unspecified documents (including possibly faux utility bills)” as legal identification for students, a public university or college must issue them. Denison University is a private institution.

“The poll workers did nothing wrong. They did as they have been instructed since the general (election) of 2008,” Sue Penick, Licking County Board of Elections director said to the Newark Advocate. “What the Denison students are using is a zero-balance utility bill from Denison University. That was approved by the Secretary of State’s office in 2008.”

The complainants also claimed that this impacted in Granville Exempted Village School District’s income tax referendum, which unofficially passed by 142 votes on Nov. 6. The complainants claimed 432 Denison students cast ballots in that precinct.

Penick said 1,806 ballots were cast at the Granville Village Precinct C. She indicated to the Newark Advocate there was no way for their office to determine how many of the ballots cast belonged to Denison students.

On Tuesday, Nov. 27 the Board of Elections had a special meeting to discuss the Granville schools income tax referendum and to certify Denison votes, the referendum passed with 51.25 percent support and officials affirmed the right of Denison students to vote locally. A dozen Granville residents were present at the meeting, none were the complainants.

The Board of Elections sought legal advice on certifying Denison voting eligibility. At the meeting the Board announced that Licking County Prosecutor Bill Hayes told election officials there was “no legal basis for the Board to refrain from certifying the election for the Granville Exempted Village School Income Tax Issue,” according to a memorandum, which the Board made public at their meeting.


Voter suppression of Ohio-based students goes back decades. In 2007, the Ohio Elections Counsel issued a memorandum allowing students to vote with a utility bill for the reason of making it easier for students to vote who do not have Ohio identification. They reaffirmed it the year after. Previously, the best method was students to vote through absentee. The change is the result of a two-year struggle by student and statewide organizations — notably Oberlin College organizations — to allow students who are not from Ohio but attend college in the state to vote at the polls.

Linda Slocum, chair of the LWV’s voter services in the Oberlin area in 2008 on students being encouraged to vote absentee said, “The irony is that it encourages people to produce absentee ballots, and that’s where the most fraud happens.”

Over 50 Denison professors wrote a letter to the editors of the Newark in support of Denison students’ right to vote in response to the complainants’ letter. They had critical words to say to them.

“They have elevated petty politics above fundamental democratic values, community values, and common sense…” the Denison professors said.  “Regardless of the fact that the challenge seems wobbly, it is disheartening that Englefield, Jenks et al. are attempting to disenfranchise those who may have voted in a way they do not like. We have news for you: that is not how democracy works.”