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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Students prepare to head to the polls for upcoming November election. 

Students prepare to head to the polls for upcoming November election. 

Students, faculty combat falling voter turnout

Will a new wave of eligible college voters line up at the polls this voting season? Studies show that may be unlikely.

UW-Madison student voter turnout was roughly 53 percent during the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama, but then dropped nearly 4 percent in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, according to data analyses by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement.

Though UW-Madison students voted more than the national average in 2012, they fell short of the average in 2016. Badgers make up a fraction of thousands of college students across the nation who don’t consistently show up at the polls. In fact, college students make up the lowest percentage of voters in the U.S.

“Research shows that many young people have not yet made voting a regular habit,” UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said. “This is partly because young adulthood is a period of transition that often involves shifts in social relationships and moving from one location to another.”

Beth Alleman, an out-of-state student, found it difficult at first to vote in Madison. She formerly worked at an assisted living community and often encountered similar problems when guiding older residents through the election process.

Alleman’s experiences motivated her to become Associated Students of Madison’s vote coordinator, where she works with UW-Madison to help make the voting process smoother. Alleman is also part of the League of Women’s Voters, an organization that encourages American women to take part in democracy.

Alleman found that informing students in a nonpartisan, non-confrontational manner effectively encourages voting.

“Talking friend to friend, person to family [increases voting],” Alleman said. “That personal touch makes people more likely to vote than being told by someone on TV.”

In her classes, she announces to students and faculty on how and where to vote, a step she said is easy for anyone to take. She also suggests professors include an informational slide at the end of PowerPoints to further educate students.

Student voters face unique obstacles, including being busy with school and confusion on how and where to register to vote when living in a new place. Students may also fall into the common belief that their “vote doesn’t matter.” However, UW-Madison consistently works to help students in the voting process and alleviate this stress.

UW-Madison has joined two competitions since 2016 to further encourage student participation in democracy: the All In Campus Democracy Challenge and the Big Ten Voting Challenge.

The Challenge is dedicated to “improving democratic engagement, increasing voter participation rates, and graduating students with a lifelong commitment to being informed and active citizens.”

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Forty-eight colleges and universities compete for seals and awards that are nationally recognized. The Challenge reached over 5 million students, including those from UW-Madison.

The university teamed up with other Big Ten schools during the 2017-18 school year for the Big Ten Voting Challenge. Trophies are awarded for the highest voter turnout rate, most improved turnout rate and more. UW-Madison set up voting registration stations around campus this week in attempts to sign-up the most new voters.

Organizations like NextGen plan to register 100,000 students nationally by the Nov. 6 election, which will include local elections on the ballot — races that students show particularly low engagement in.

“Students are often less aware of politics in particular places and have less investment in what is happening locally,” Burden said.

However, students’ votes can have a large impact even if they’re voting at a small level, according to Alleman.

For example, a recent Beloit referendum on the construction of a new elementary school was decided by just two votes. Referendums like these appear on many ballots in local elections and can have real world consequences.

In order to vote, students will need a current photo ID that is not their WisCard.

Students who live in campus housing are assigned a polling place depending on the residence hall in which they live. For example, Smith and Ogg residents must vote at Smith Hall, and Memorial Union is the designated polling place for Adams, Barnard, Waters, Chadbourne, Slichter and Tripp residents.

Students can find more information about registration and voting at UW-Madison’s voting website, including instructions on how to vote early or absentee. Other information can be found at 1myVote, an app that gives readers nonpartisan summaries on candidates and provides links to further details.

“It’s part of our responsibility as citizens to take part in the election process. As a person with the ability to vote, I want to take advantage of the right and ability,” Alleman said.

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