MADISON, WISCONSIN — Tuesday’s presidential primary will the first in Wisconsin’s history to require voters to present photo identification at the polls, and an estimated 300,000 people in the state do not have one.
Some of those 300,000 otherwise eligible voters are University of Wisconsin students, who can’t use their student IDs at the ballot box. Unless they have a Wisconsin drivers license or passport, they must go to a campus office, present their student ID, and request an additional voter ID that complies with Gov. Scott Walker’s law. At UW-Madison, where there are more than 40,000 students, there has been one office issuing these voter IDs, open only on weekdays. The office had handed out about 3,300 as of Election Day, though they estimate that as many as 6,400 students will need one.
While poll workers will accept an expired drivers license, passport, tribal ID, or military ID, the student voter ID must be less than two years old. Students must additionally print out and bring a proof of enrollment, such as a class schedule, or pull one up on their phone. And while poll workers are only mandated to look at a person’s name and photo on most IDs, when examining student IDs they must also check for a signature.
Student leaders at the UW’s flagship campus in Madison told ThinkProgress they feel singled out for extra scrutiny.
It seems like the state legislature doesn’t want a bunch of students voting
“It seems like the state legislature doesn’t want a bunch of students voting,” said junior Jessica Franco-Morales, a member of the student council working on voter education and outreach on campus. “[The lawmakers] could have changed the law to make our student IDs compatible, but they didn’t. Their attack on certain populations seems pretty blatant. I don’t know how this can be legal.”
Some civil rights groups, including the ACLU, have argued it isn’t legal, and have filed lawsuits to force the state to accept student IDs. But courts allowed the law to go into effect as-is. Just a few weeks ago, the legislature changed the law to include veterans ID cards, but ignored pleas from students to do the same for them.
Franco-Morales and other students petitioned the university administration to change the standard, free student ID card — called a Wiscard — but they refused to do so, arguing they can’t afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would cost. They opted instead to make additional voter IDs available for the 6,400 students they estimate will need one. This decision came less than a year after Gov. Walker signed the largest budget cut in the University of Wisconsin’s history, slashing $250 million dollars from the schools.
Most students already have a valid ID. But for out-of-state students like UW-Madison freshman Jason Klein, who hails from Indiana, the law presents a burden.
“It’s not getting the ID that’s the problem. It only took only half an hour out of my day,” he said. “It’s people not knowing that they have to get it. I’ve been registering a lot of people to vote, and I always ask them if they know about the voter ID law. Some do, but most have said, ‘What’s that?’ I’m really worried about people showing up on election day and learning they have to get this extra ID card and not having time to rush over to the office and get one.” Klein has cause to be concerned. Wisconsin’s elections administrators said last year that they would need at least half a million dollars to educate the state’s residents about the voter ID law. Instead, the Republican-controlled legislature gave them almost nothing. As the law has been struck down, put on hold, and eventually upheld by various courts, Franco-Morales said student confusion is widespread.
“People are wondering, is this still a thing?” she said.
Whether the ID law is “a thing” also varies from campus to campus. The group Common Cause of Wisconsin found that the standard student ID at only three of the University of Wisconsin’s 13 four-year schools and at seven of the state’s 23 private colleges can be used as a voter photo ID. And some schools, such as the Milwaukee School of Engineering and Columbia College of Nursing, are not providing any free voter IDs, putting their students at greater risk of disenfranchisement.
Red flags in February
Wisconsin students witnessed the effects of the law firsthand in its first implementation in February, for a low-turnout local judges race. In that election, local officials told ThinkProgress, several students were forced to cast provisional ballots because they didn’t bring the proper ID. Such ballots are often never counted.
“There were students not aware that they had to go to a certain polling place,” said Jonathan Vannucci, the vote coordinator for Associated Students of Madison. “There were students who came without the correct form of identification and were turned away from the polls. So with the higher voter turnout this Tuesday, I’m afraid there will be a lot more students turned away.”
I’m afraid there will be a lot more students turned away.
Between the new ID law, same-day registration, and cuts to early voting hours approved by Gov. Walker, Vannucci said he’s also concerned students could face long waits to cast a ballot.
“Students have insanely busy schedules between class, studying, work, and extra-curriculars,” he said. “It’s hard to find a dedicated time in your day to vote, especially if there are long lines.”
Franco-Morales agreed. “You’re putting students in a difficult situation,” she said. “They think, do I go vote, knowing it might take an hour or two, and skip my class, which I’m learning in and I’m paying for? Or do I just opt out of my civic duty and say, ‘Next time’? This could be an easier, faster process and it’s deliberately not. When your own government is preaching civic duty but curtailing your civic duty, that’s really sad and frustrating.”
Hurting the Bern?
Sen. Bernie Sanders has been dominating with students and young voters, even in states won by Hillary Clinton. Wisconsin, where he holds a narrow lead in the polls, is no exception. The fact that the Vermont senator held three rallies in a single week in the student stronghold of Madison speaks to how much he needs these voters. The Associated Students of Madison told ThinkProgress that Sanders won a straw poll they held a few weeks ago by “a lot,” and that it’s impossible to walk through any part of campus without seeing Sanders buttons, t-shirts, posters, and stickers.
But these young Sanders voters are most at risk from the state’s voter ID law. Sanders himself railed against the law at a rally on the university campus Sunday night, blasting Gov. Walker for “working overtime to suppress the vote.”
“It has never occurred to me, not for one second, to say, ‘How can I make it harder for people to vote who might be voting against me?’” he told the crowd of nearly 5,000. “I say to Governor Walker: if you are not prepared to run in free and open elections, get out of politics, get another job.”
Yet nowhere in Sanders’ speech did he remind students what form of ID they can use to vote, and students say they’re concerned their education efforts won’t reach everyone.
“This election has brought in a lot of people who haven’t been involved in the political process before, who haven’t been following every turn in the law, but who just want to vote,” Klein said, adding that he felt the Republicans who control the state legislature and governor’s mansion are deliberately aiming to deter student participation because of the perception that they will vote for leftist candidates. “You definitely see it coming from one side.”
Yet while many on campus are feeling the Bern, the massive research school is ideologically diverse, with students from all backgrounds and origins and political leanings. “Students are not a monolith,” Klein said. “So to suppress them because you think they’re going to vote for one candidate or one party is crazy.”
Vannucci, who has been scrambling for weeks to put fliers around campus reminding students to bring a proper ID to the polls and where to get one, said he hopes the voting restrictions passed by the state drive turnout up, not down.
“They’re definitely trying to suppress the student vote,” he said. “But I hope these attacks inspire students to come out and say, ‘You can’t oppress my voice.’”