Shelby Fosco has been on the frontlines of several important Wisconsin elections. As a five-year veteran of University of Wisconsin-Madison voter engagement coalition BadgersVote, it’s her job to get students to the polls.
“We’ve been saying it all over the place that ‘their vote matters,’” Fosco said. “Your vote really does matter. This election season [was] a great example of that.”
As chair of BadgersVote during the 2022 midterm elections, Fosco said she oversaw an electric voting atmosphere with high youth voting turnout. Thousands of students voted early or showed up on election day to choose their preferred candidates in hotly-contested races for Governor, U.S. Senate and other statewide and local offices.
BadgersVote spent the months leading up to Election Day educating students on Wisconsin’s election process. Coalition members hosted multiple informational events to teach students what was on their ballot, what counts as “proof of residence” and how to obtain a vaild voter ID.
One of those team members was Laine Bottemiller, a student intern with BadgersVote. She represents the Andrew Goodman Foundation, a nationwide civic engagement network focused on reducing barriers to youth voting.
Bottemiller spent Election Day printing voter ID cards for students at Union South. The cards fulfill photo ID requirements for students without a Wisconsin driver’s license, making them essential for out-of-state students.
UW-Madison issued over 7,000 student voter ID cards between Sept. 1 and Election Day, over half of which were printed on Election Day, according to data from BadgersVote — an amount Bottemiller said was “crazy.”
“That's a barrier that really could prevent a lot of students from voting and so the fact that we can have a solution to that and still allow them to vote is super powerful,” Bottemiller said. “It was really a good feeling.”
The League of Women Voters of Dane County (LWV) is another active community force for youth voter registration. The LWV is a civic engagement organization, founded over a century ago, prides itself on expanding democracy and promoting voter turnout.
“If you don’t vote, you really have no say in what is happening in your life,” said Dane County LWV Voter Service Co-Chair Sue Fulks. “Voting is how you influence everything from jobs to health to environment to whatever is happening in the world. Voting is your chance to make a difference.”
LWV members organized voter registration events across campus this fall, including a three-week bus pass drive at Union South that registered 1,000 students.
Members spent Election Day helping register students at the polls. Fulks worked at Gordon Dining and Event Center, the polling location for Witte and Sellery residence halls as well as nearby apartments.
According to Folks, student enthusiasm was palpable and the polls were busy for most of the day. She said this year’s youth turnout was “impressive.”
“I thought it was incredible for students to really be enthused all the way through the whole process,” Fulks said.
“We deserve to be listened to”
Unofficial Dane County voting data reflects poll workers’ observations on Election Day. Though voter turnout dropped to 80.4% from 88.0% in 2018, nearly 6,000 more voters cast ballots in 2022 compared to four years ago.
Student turnout was especially strong, according to a Daily Cardinal analysis of voting data. The total number of votes cast rose approximately 30% compared to 2018 in the five city wards — 48, 57, 58, 60 and 61 — that contain UW-owned undergraduate student housing.
Four of those wards saw more votes than the number of registered voters reported on Nov. 1, indicating high levels of same-day student voter registration.
Ward 61, which encompasses Lakeshore neighborhood dorms west of Babcock Drive, reported nearly 50% more votes cast than registered voters on Nov. 1. That means approximately five students registered to vote on Election Day for every 10 students who were previously registered.
Ald. Juliana Bennett, who represents the majority-student District 8 in Madison’s City Council, said the 2022 election results were a “long, long time coming.”
“Young people are starting to see that agency within themselves,” Bennett said. “We deserve to be listened to.”
Voters under 30 recorded an estimated 27% nationwide voter turnout in the 2022 midterms — the second-highest ever in a midterm election — according to a Tufts University report. Young voters also broke for Democrats by 28% nationwide, according to preliminary exit polling from ABC News.
Some UW students interviewed on Election Day said they voted for Democrats because the party reflected their views on abortion, climate change and LGBTQ+ rights.
“I just feel like this is a really contentious election and what I believe in is up at stake, so it really motivated me to go to the polls more than any other year, for governor and for senate,'' student voter Ian Gross said.
In Wisconsin, voters aged 18 to 29 supported Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes by 40% each over their opponents in the governor and senate races, respectively, according to exit polling from CNN.
Though Barnes narrowly lost the senate race, both he and Evers outperformed final Marquette Law School polling estimates for their races. Barnes beat his polling margin by 1.5%, while Evers beat his by just over 3%.
Bennett believes young voters’ overwhelming support for Democratic candidates stalled the “red wave” Republicans expected to see in races nationwide.
“We came out and ... just [gave] a middle finger to the establishment and everything the GOP stands for right now,” Bennett said.
But Bennett warned Democrats not to take youth votes for granted. Instead of relying on texts and emails, she encouraged politicians to hold live campaign events where young voters can engage with candidates.
She added that those events need to happen outside campaign cycles.
“We’re often so far removed from elected leaders. It's almost like they come around every four years to get our vote, and then we never see or hear from them,” Bennett said. “I think that young people are often ... looked down upon, doubted on our intelligence.”
Most of all, Bennett said elected officials should take the midterm results as a sign that young people are a growing voting bloc with clear expectations for lawmakers.
“We’re not just a bunch of young kids that are angry, angsty or whatever. We are young adults,” Bennett said. “We have a clear vision of what we want for the future.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.