Opinion

Voter ID laws unfairly impact students

Voters in Wisconsin are required to show photo identification before they can vote. However, UW-Madison students cannot use their Wiscards as a proof of identity.

Image By: Emily Buck

Voting should be easier. This is a commonly held belief, yet there isn’t a consensus as to how to amend the problem.

The United States fares poorly in voter turnout compared with other countries to an embarrassing extent.

According to U.S. News, “only 55.7 percent of voting-eligible Americans showed up at the polls for the 2016 presidential election."

For midterm elections, this turnout problem is even more pronounced. This is shocking, especially for a well-developed country like the United States that champions itself on the foundation of free and fair elections.

We have numerous elections for government leaders for all levels of government, resulting in many voters having trouble keeping up with the number of options.

Additionally, elections are held on weekdays, registration can be intimidating and many people unfortunately believe that their vote does not matter. The Washington Post reported that early voter turnout increased dramatically this year - by about 125 percent for those aged 18-30;— while this can be attributed to an improved sense of political efficacy amongst young voters, it is crucial that we boost voter turnout if we have any hope of saving our American democracy.

I am a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today I had the privilege of working with other poll workers to help young Americans register to vote and confirm their polling location.

I checked students’ IDs, gave students their voting slip number, checked off their names in the pollbooks and directed them to the next booth to set them up to vote.

My experience as a first-time polling volunteer confirmed my belief that the system by which the state of Wisconsin and many other states goes by is burdensome. It demonstrated to me that voter suppression efforts continue to exist and remain hugely problematic.

I encountered numerous students, most first-time voters, that claimed they had already registered to vote.

Some of these students had registered to vote at the beginning of the year, and others had registered a week or two ago. Their names, however, did not appear in the pollbooks.

Despite the countless number of students I interacted with whose registration did not go through the system, I never encountered a rude, impudent student. Rather, they all went back to the registration booth.

These students were not idle in their right to vote. They exhibited care, passion and hope to contribute to a better democracy and future. Student after student, I realized how delusional it is to claim that the youth are lazy, misinformed and uncaring.

We may have grown up different from previous generations with technology pervading society at such a young age, but that does not make our character or voices any less respectable.

However, had those students not been able to re-register the day of voting, they would not have been able to cast their ballots. This is inherently wrong on so many levels. A vote is an important civic duty — if not the most important. And for citizens who may not have the time nor resources to see when voter registration for their state ends, they are unable to perform this civic duty.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since March 2018, only 17 out of the 50 American states grant same-day voter registration.

This brings me back to my question: Why is the voting process so complex?

All UW-Madison students are provided a Wiscard, an ID that permits access into campus buildings, and can also be used to pay for things like laundry and printing. However, Wiscards do not suffice as proper voter registration identification, despite their use for getting into residence halls and other locations.

Some students had to get their photo taken to show their voter identification card, and most — if not all — would also take out their Wiscard after I asked for them to show me their ID. Out-of-state students at UW-Madison, in addition to showing their Wisconsin voter identification card, had to either show us their bus pass, which expires by the semester or go on their phone and show that they are a current student through a display of the classes they are enrolled in in their Student Center. This makes the process that much more time-consuming.

Yes, these tasks do not appear difficult. And for many affluent students, it is no problem pulling out your phone. But what about students who lack the funds to own a phone?

Surely, they could use elected polling officials’ phones — if that is permitted. That said, such an act perpetuates the belief that voter fraud is that much more prevalent and important than getting out the vote.

This is problematic. It may make voters feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and frustrated with the voting process. It sends a condescending message to young voters that they do not belong in the participation of government.

For those who may previously have been intimidated by the prospect of voting but are finally feeling empowered in this 2018 midterm election, it becomes more clear why voter turnout, particularly for the youth, tends to be low.

A friend of mine proposed that our Wiscard now include our signature to enable voters to use it. Many students worry: Do I have everything I need? What if they turn me away at the polls? Elections are undoubtedly anxiety-ridden, and for first-time voters, having to worry about how they will get to the polls and if they have the right materials only exacerbates their concerns.

I personally believe this idea would not only expedite the process but also ease new voters’ nerves about it as well.

I know that there are several men and women out there who have many other responsibilities that do not allow them the time nor the resources to check if they have missed their voter registration date. I recognize my own privilege as a white, American-born female capable of going to an out-of-state university. Nonetheless, many of my peers are of the same socioeconomic background as me, and as college students, our lives are busy enough with readings, club meetings, work and maintaining a social life.

Voting and politics, unfortunately, are not always on people’s minds.

However, it is vital that Americans stay aware, vote and recognize their privilege.

Voting is a defining characteristic of American democratic values. People have fought for years to disenfranchise minorities by imposing voter restrictions and challenges. I am from Potomac, Maryland, a state that does NOT allow same-day voter registration. Although the issue is now on the ballot for this election, I can only hope that this change will be implemented.

Notwithstanding the fact that Madison, a very liberal town, is dedicated to get-out-the-vote efforts, particularly for the youth, there remain problems with our current system.

Voter suppression exists and often affects vulnerable populations and minorities. Efforts that make it harder to vote do not increase the integrity of the process. There is no reason why a regular student cannot use their regular ID that is used to validate other processes.

As UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer said, “The only reason for a student ID requirement is to make it harder to vote.” That hurts democracy. That impedes on our rights. And it jeopardizes our future.

Gaby is a freshman studying political science and communications. Do Wisconsin’s voter ID laws prevent students from voting? Please send all questions and comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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