Voter Suppression Silences Students on Campus

Elizabeth Vierkant – 

The 2018 midterm election is approaching. In Menomonie, this election will select the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, United States senator, representative in congress (District 3), representative to the assembly (District 9), the Dunn County sheriff, and the Dunn County clerk of circuit court.

John See, a former professor in the vocational rehabilitation program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, has been involved with voter registration on campus for the past 30 years. He is concerned that with new registration requirements, many students are being restricted from participating in elections.

“[Voter registration] has never been as difficult and confusing as it is now. It really confuses so many people. In the old days, we had a paper application. We would have a table set up in the student center or in the dining rooms,” See said. “People would stop by before dinner to fill out forms. You wouldn’t need photo ID or proof of residency.”

See believes that the photo ID and proof of residency required for registration makes the process very difficult. According to a University of Wisconsin–Madison study by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell, thousands of voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties were unable to vote in the 2016 election due to these requirements.

A survey was sent to 2,400 voters and 293 responded. Based on this survey, UW–Madison professor of political science, Kenneth Mayer, gathered that between 11,701 to 23,252 voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties were kept from voting due to these laws.

According to Tina Lee, the director of the applied social science major at UW–Stout, voter restriction is a major issue that affects all minority groups.

“The Supreme Court just ruled that it’s okay to make as a prerequisite for being registered to vote having a physical address, and Native Americans on many reservations in the west don’t have physical addresses because the postal service doesn’t have the means to travel the long distances it would take to find people. So everybody has a P.O. Box,” Lee said. “P.O. Boxes don’t count for registering.”

According to ten studies conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2014, Kansas, a state with these voter ID laws, saw their voter turnout drop by 3.2 percent. This decrease mostly affected those between the ages of 18 and 23, new voters, and African Americans.

“[Voter restriction is] limiting early voting, making it harder to cast absentee ballots, closing down branch offices where you need to go to get IDs in some parts of the country, or just generally making it harder for students by making it confusing,” Lee said. “It’s just unnecessarily complicated. That’s mostly happened because of a mythology about voter fraud, which basically never happens.”

Lee believes that this is mostly done as an attempt to keep certain people in political power, much like gerrymandering. 

While Lee does think that voter restrictions have decreased voter turnout in students, she also believes there are other factors. “I think there’s an amount of feeling like it’s kind of I don’t want to say hopeless, but close to that. It’s: ‘why bother voting because it’s not going to really make a difference.’ But the problem is if everyone did vote and participate, it really would make a difference,” she said.

See is concerned that students will not register to vote because it was reported that registration has ended. It hasn’t. “Registration is not over, but you can’t do it on your computer,” he said.

While online registration for voting ended on October 18, you can still register before the next election. The League of Women Voters will have a booth located on the lower level of the MSC (Memorial Student Center) on Oct. 24, 25, 29 and 30 from 8:30-1 p.m. to help get students registered.

Students can also stop by the Stout Student Association (SSA) office located in the Involvement Center if they need assistance with registering.

You can also register at the Menomonie City Clerk Office located on 800 Wilson Avenue, Menomonie WI, 54751. It is also an option to register at your polling place on the day of the election.

Your polling place is where you will go to vote on November 6. You can figure out this location by going to www.myvote.wi.gov and typing in your current address.

Lee and See were asked what advice they would give students regarding the upcoming election.

“Get over to your polling place on November 6. You can go to www.myvote.wi.gov and put in your address. It will tell where your voting place is,” See said. “Take the time to get registered ahead of time. Don’t wait until last minute.”

“It’s really important [to vote], especially in local elections and state elections because the state legislature – they’re the people who affect a lot of what happens on this campus. The policies that they put in place are going to affect you for your whole life, so it’s really important to try to get people who represent what your interests are,” said Lee.

Lee also believes that it is important to educate yourself on the candidates before the election. “Educating yourself is one of the most important things, and [voting] is a responsibility as well as a right,” she said. “Exercise your rights, but also know that you have a responsibility too, because it’s going to affect your life and everybody else’s.”

An election watch party created by Stout student Zipporah Turnbull will be hosted on Nov. 6 from 8-11 p.m. following the election. It will be held in the MSC Terrace. The Stout organizations involved with this include the SSA, Stout Students Unite, Center for the Study of Institutions & Innovations, Black Student Union, and Speak Up.

Voting will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6.