The University of Wisconsin-Madison saw its student-voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election rise to 72.8%, up from 65.4% in 2016. According to the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE), UW-Madison’s voting rate was higher than the 66% rate of all other colleges.
The 2020 NSLVE Campus Report revealed that out of 33,749 eligible students at UW-Madison, 24,571 voted. Although the total of eligible voters decreased by 637 people from 2016 to 2020, voter registration and the number of UW-Madison students who voted increased.
“These numbers show us that there is always work to be done in the future to further improve voting involvement,” said Shreya Bandyopadhyay, a Vote Everywhere Ambassador with the Morgridge Center for Public Service.
BadgersVote is a campus-wide initiative that strives to educate UW-Madison's students about voting and election participation. The initiative is a collaboration between the Morgridge Center, Associated Students of Madison and other campus organizations to support student voting efforts. They hosted registration drives, publicity campaigns and discussion panels around election day to increase student participation.
According to Bandyopadhyay, the 2020 presidential candidates played a large part in increasing student voting turnout.
“I think in terms of people getting out to vote because of who was on the ballot was very important because it was a high[ly] partisan election. People felt passionately about who they were going to vote for and whether or not they would cast their ballot,” she said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal.
The 2016 election ballot was just as divided, but Bandyopadhyay credits the difference in voter turnout to the university.
“All the efforts by BadgersVote were really impactful, which we saw in the turnout results. We did a lot of things that were different from normal table efforts,” Bandyopadhyay said. “We used social media, online content, podcasts, zoom events and more different tactics to get people out to vote that they hadn’t seen before.”
The use of social media helped generate a larger voter turnout in the 2020 elections due to many young voters being on their phones, Bandyopadhyay added.
“People are looking for new avenues to get engaged, and something low-effort like turning on a podcast. It’s a great way to engage new voters,” Bandyopadhyay said.
UW-Madison also participated in the All In Campus Democracy Challenge last year in an effort to achieve full student-voter registration. The non-partisan program aims to advance democracy by encouraging citizens to vote, contact elected officials and take part in political organization. The initiative collaborated with more than 160 colleges and universities to normalize voting participation in elections and pushed for the acceptance of democratic involvement on campus.
The university competed against other Big Ten institutions in the Big Ten Voting Challenge to mobilize civic engagement. Competition brings out the best in Big Ten students, and the presidents challenged their respective schools to bring the same level of intensity to the voting booth.
“One of the most important values we teach at our universities is the importance of civic engagement. Voting in elections gives our students a voice in the democratic process and in the decisions that affect local, state and national issues,” the 14 Big Ten presidents said in a letter.
The university and its counterparts aim to push their students to stay informed and involved in nonpartisan democratic engagements. The increase of voter turnout in the 2020 election signals a future where the students of Madison embrace their roles as active citizens on campus and in society as a whole.
Bandyopadhyay hopes to see even more voter turnout by the midterm elections.
“I feel like kids are really excited about voting after they do it once. Everything is hard the first time, but students will feel that the second time will be easier,” Bandyopadhyay concluded. “All the campus efforts are more established, like institutionalizing the vote team. Now that the BadgersVote coalition existed another year, it’s another year of credibility and experience that will help students find trust in our institution.”