Wisconsin Students Face Hour-Long Voting Lines, Voter ID Confusion

A small fraction of the hour-long line to vote at Milwaukee’s Marquette University. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN
A small fraction of the hour-long line to vote at Milwaukee’s Marquette University. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN — Marquette Law School student Caleb Smith waited more than an hour on Tuesday to cast his ballot in the presidential primary, standing in a line of students of nearly 100 students that snaked around the school’s student union.

“It’s fine, I don’t have class until 5:30,” he told ThinkProgress.

Others were not so lucky. Many students who had come on their lunch break left when they saw the line, saying they had to go to class and would try to come back later. Polls close at 8 p.m., and volunteers with the League of Women Voters told ThinkProgress they were concerned some students would not be able to return. Marquette University employees said the majority of the school’s 12,000 enrolled students were assigned to a single precinct.

While dozens of students stood waiting to vote, the longer wait was for same-day registration — an especially important step for students, who tend to have a new address every year. Students who did not have a Wisconsin drivers license or passport had to wait in yet another line to acquire a voter ID, since Wisconsin’s law does not accept student IDs issued by most of the schools colleges and universities.


Education major Megan Malloy, as she passed her time in line doing her homework on the hallway floor, said she did not know until Tuesday that such an extra step was necessary. “It’s an inconvenience, but it’s not that big a deal,” she said. “At least they have [the ID office] on campus. If it was far away, I think the voter turnout would be a lot less.”

Some students were giving up and leaving.

Malloy was fortunate in that the student ID office was right around the corner from her polling place. At the state’s other colleges, students have had to make an additional trip across campus, while some colleges are not offering free IDs at all. For thousands of out-of-state students like Malloy who can’t use their drivers license, the law presents an additional burden.

Malloy was also far from the only student voter on Tuesday not to know the ins and outs of the state’s newly-implemented voter ID law. The Republican-controlled legislature that approved the law did not budget any funds for educating residents about the requirements, and students doing get-out-the-vote work told ThinkProgress they have seen widespread confusion around the law.

Other campuses across Wisconsin reported problems as well. “There are really long lines at the UW-Madison to get a compliant ID,” said Andrea Kaminiski with the League of Women Voters, a group monitoring the election. “Some students were giving up and leaving.”

Students at state universities in Green Bay, Eau Claire, and Stevens Point also faced nearly hour-long waits on Tuesday.

Yet the students who spoke to ThinkProgress emphasized that they were motivated to vote no matter the hardship.

“I want to utilize my rights instead of just complaining about things that are wrong in our political system,” Malloy said. “This is our one way to make a difference in who we elect. No matter how small our voices may seem, in a great number it came make an impact.”


While Malloy and others said their top goal in voting Tuesday was to stop Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, some students said they were inspired to come out and vote for the hotel mogul.

“I really like Trump,” Smith said. “He brought me out. I don’t vote very often, but the political correctness of the world is getting out of hand. I’m concerned about who is going to be picking one to three Supreme Court Justices, and I’m concerned about our Second Amendment rights.”

Smith said Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which is one of the most strict in the country, made sense to him. But other students viewed it as an intentional effort to suppress their votes.

“It seems like the state legislature doesn’t want a bunch of students voting,” said UW-Madison 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.”