(WORT) — For months, Dane County officials and student groups have been talking with the University of Wisconsin-Madison about the need to help students navigate Wisconsin’s Voter ID law in the upcoming presidential election year.
In 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed legislation into law that requires photo identification in order to vote. But for the last several elections, full implementation of the law has been blocked by the courts. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a challenge to Wisconsin’s Voter ID law cleared the way for the legislation to be enforced.
The campus IDs–known as Wiscards–currently issued to UW-Madison students can’t be used to vote because they fail to pass legal muster as a valid form of identification. Other UW System schools have changed their campus IDs to comply with the law. But on the UW-Madison campus, eligible voters will be issued a separate ID card, just for voting, that will be valid at the polls.
Dane County Election Clerk Scott McDonell says the administration’s current plan to make a second voter ID card available to students on request and to post volunteers to answer questions on election day is inadequate.
“To give some incoming freshman a secondary ID…before the election itself, I can only imagine where that will end up by November,” said McDonell. “I’m very concerned that students will decide within the last few days of the campaign that they want to vote..and [only then] begin the process of trying to figure out how that would happen.”
In a statement, UW-Madison officials estimated that 6,400 students would need the second voter ID.
“To ensure students have the broadest awareness of the voter ID requirements, we’ll be expanding the way in which we get the cards into the hands of the students who need them,” said Lori Berquam, vice provost for student life and dean of students.
McDonell worries that with 14,000 out-of-state students and a presidential election coming up, young voters in need of a separate ID card will be far higher than what campus officials are predicting.
“I don’t think anything short of having the primary ID that the students use as the photo ID will work,” said McDonell. “There are just way too many obstacles in their way right now.”
UW- Madison student Phoenix Rice Johnson, a member of the College Democrats, also worries that the university’s plan will have an adverse effect on voter turnout.
“I’m disappointed that both the legislature and the school administration isn’t working harder to empower students,” said Johnson.“The youth voting bloc already has a hard time getting engaged and turning out to vote and it’s upsetting to see these forms of voter suppression making it even more difficult.”
In a joint statement earlier this month, College Democrats and College Republicans criticized the administration for failing to make “a simple adjustment” to existing campus IDs.
“The two requirements that the Wiscard do not comply with is a signature and an expiration date no more than two years after the issuing date. These are simple fixes that can be added to current Wiscards with two stickers, one for the expiration date and one for a student to sign their name. This offers a cheaper alternative to replacing all Wiscards.”
But UW-Madison administrators contend it would simply be too expensive to reissue ID cards every two years instead of the current five. Doing so would cost $2 million over the next five years, and it would cause a logistical headache, administrators recently told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Dane County Board Member Leland Pan, whose district includes much of UW-Madison’s campus, says he’s sympathetic to the fact that the university is struggling with a budget shortfall. But he says facilitating student voter turnout by spending a little money to modify ID cards is an essential service.
“It’s a question of priorities. I don’t think universities should be prioritizing saving money over civic engagement amongst our students,” Pan said. “I think something the university keeps doing is underestimating and not respecting students’ civic engagement, whether that’s voting, or whether that’s activism around issues of sweatshops or racism on campus.”
Pan also noted that students are not the only ones who are adversely affected by the voter ID regulations.
“It’s no secret that a lot of legislation on restricting access to voting that especially limits low income folks, students, people who move a lot, is really a pretty transparent attempt to stop a certain demographic of voters that tend to vote more to the left.”
McDonell says UW-Green Bay and UW-Superior have both made student ID cards that are valid at the polls and the cost has been minimal. Dane County’s election clerk says he was surprised with how the UW-Madison has handled appeals to do the same.
“I have felt a little bit like they’re not interested in this, and they’re not interested in students voting,” McDonell said. “They seem a little more callous about that than I was expecting.”