University of Wisconsin-Madison students and local residents gathered at campus polling locations on Feb. 21 to vote in local and state primary elections. Ballots across campus included primaries for Madison mayor, alderperson in Districts 2, 4, 8 and 5 and for Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justices. The winners of each primary will face off on April 4 in the final election.
For many students, voting allowed them to participate in a Wisconsin Supreme Court election that will determine the majority of the court for years to come. Student and local organizations reminded students to vote and presented non-partisan voting information on the candidates outside of campus voting locations like Memorial Union and Union South.
“The Supreme Court election is our main focus,” said Jason Rivera, leader from Rise Free. “This election really does help decide a lot about how we as students get to live day to day.”
Rise Free is a non-partisan student advocacy group that encourages voting and supports issues related to free college and student loan debt relief. Rivera discussed Rise’s voting tools that compile candidate, voting location and ID resources for college students, while allowing students to add election reminders to their calendars.
Representatives from Rise Free gave students who engaged with their voting resources free drinks and pizza coupons. Rivera highlighted students' positive engagement with the organization’s resources.
“I'm seeing a lot of students coming out and saying, ‘Oh, thanks for being here. I really needed this reminder,’” Rivera said. “People don't know where their polling location is and because Wisconsin has really strict laws around Voter IDs and location, [students say] it's nice to have people that are actually giving good information, and nonpartisan information.”
Another campus group, BadgersVote, assisted at campus polling locations by printing temporary IDs for students who needed to register to vote and did not have the required documents to register.
“Maybe students don't realize that a Minnesota driver's license or a Wiscard or a library card doesn't work,” said Political Science Professor Barry Burden and BadgersVote volunteer at the Chazen Museum of Art polling location. “Another kind of ID is required and one thing we can do working with the Wiscard office is produce these temporary printed IDs that allow students to cast the ballot while they're there.”
Burden shared his excitement that so many students were involved in the primary elections, and predicts this involvement will continue for the April general election. Burden also noted that BadgersVote will continue to provide voting resources at the polls and up until that election.
“It looks like thousands of students participated in the February election, despite it being a kind of low turnout nonpartisan election with not a lot of contests on the ballot,” Burden said. “I expect that will increase when we get to the April general election and BadgersVote will be there again in March and April, helping students to print IDs, providing information and in general trying to generate interest and inform students and why they ought to be involved.”
Many UW-Madison students were inspired to vote because of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election’s impact on them and other Wisconsinites.
“I am voting today so that my voice is heard in an election that affects me and where I live and the people that I love that live in this area as well,” said Lauren Hando, a senior at UW-Madison, as she waited in line to cast her ballot.
“I voted today because my friends kept pestering me about doing it,” added Elisabeth Schutz, another UW-Madison student. “Reproductive rights are an important issue to me, so I just felt like I had to vote. I’m happy I did it and glad I came out.”
Burden emphasized the importance of university students getting out and engaging in elections.
“I'm involved because I think an important part of being a college student is learning how to be civically involved. And I enjoy assisting and watching students get engaged with the political process,” Burden said.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Feb. 22 at 5:50 p.m. to reflect BadgersVote's assistance at campus polling locations.
Noe Goldhaber is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in campus and state news reporting.