Is Wisconsin Specifically Targeting Student Voters With This Law?

Kate Brown
Gov. Scott Walker signed a new voter law that makes it even harder for students to figure out if they have proper identification in order to cast their ballot.

A new Wisconsin law requires that voters must present one of the following: an expired driver’s license, a passport, a tribal ID, a military ID, or a student voter ID that is less than two years old.

For those that can only present a student voter ID—an ID that students must obtain through just one office at the University of Wisconsin which is only open on weekdays—they must also provide a proof of enrollment, such as a class schedule.

Furthermore, while it is usually required that poll workers only look at the picture ID and the name on most IDs, they now must also look for a signature on the student voter ID.

“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.”

Civil rights groups like ACLU argue that this is illegal, and worked to file a suit that would force the state to accept student IDs as a valid form of identification at the polls—but the courts let it go into effect as-is.

Students turned their attention to the university, hoping that there was something they could do with the student ID cards.

ThinkProgress reports that the university, “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.” Their 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”—so they really weren’t kidding that they couldn’t afford it.

While most students are able to present another valid form of identification, out-of-state students are forced to handle the extra burden the law presents, and as UW-Madison freshman Jason Klein points out, it’s not getting the card that’s the problem—it’s simply knowing you have to get one.

“It’s not getting the ID that’s the problem. It 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.”


As ThinkProgress explains:

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.

Students are also confused about where to go, often showing up at the wrong place and forced to fill out a provisional ballot (which are rarely counted). With early voting hours also cut, students—who often have hectic schedules—may be forced to wait in long lines.

“You’re putting students in a difficult situation,” Franco-Morales 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.”

What may be most interesting about this entire thing is that Republican youths in Wisconsin tend to lean in favor of Gov. Walker’s favorite presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz. By making it difficult for students to vote, this law could make it harder for Cruz to get the youth votes that he needs.


On the other hand, Wisconsin polls suggest that Sen. Bernie Sanders could win against Democratic presidential front-runner Clinton by a small margin, which means that Sanders needs every last vote he can get—and he’s wildly popular among young voters, so this could really hurt his chances. This kind of tactic, however, has been seen in plenty of other state primaries—and it’s working.

These despicable tactics have even got Sanders speaking out, who recently criticized Gov. Walkers 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 a crowd of nearly 5,000 people. “I say to Governor Walker: if you are not prepared to run in free and open elections, get out of politics, get another job.”

Jonathan Vannucci, the vote coordinator for Associated Students of Madison, expressed his frustration and his hope for the upcoming election; “They’re definitely trying to suppress the student vote. But I hope these attacks inspire students to come out and say, ‘You can’t oppress my voice.'”

Banner Image Credit: Flickr user Erik (HASH) Hersman