Jenna Roberg is from Minnesota, but the UW-Madison graduate student in social work has come to care a lot about her adopted community, she says. And that means she wants to vote here.
As Roberg sees it, voting where she is living and attending school is part and parcel with the university’s vaunted Wisconsin Idea — taking the knowledge of the university beyond campus and into the community.
That’s why Roberg, a member of the Student Vote Coalition, is among UW-Madison students who will speak Thursday in support of a Dane County Board resolution calling on UW-Madison to alter student identification cards to put them in compliance with state Voter ID laws.
“It’s the right thing to do to make voting as easy and accessible as possible,” Roberg said. “The administration should do everything in its power to support students to have access to voting.”
With the all but assured approval of the resolution sponsored by 28 of its 37 members, the county board will join the Madison City Council in calling on the university to change its student ID cards so that they can be used to vote.
UW-Green Bay and UW-Superior, as well as Madison College and Edgewood College, have opted to alter their IDs to conform with the 2011 voting law.
But UW-Madison officials have resisted changing their policy and at a meeting early last month with a group of students, Dean of Students Lori Berquam did not seem open to reconsidering it, Roberg said.
University officials say the cost of replacing the Wiscard student ID cards every two years, as required by Voter ID laws, is too costly. They estimate the cost at $2 million over the first five years and $375,000 to $600,000 yearly after that.
Instead, since 2012 the university has provided free voting ID cards to students who don’t have the required Wisconsin drivers license or state ID, mostly out of state students.
To comply with Wisconsin Voter ID laws, student cards also would need the bearer’s signature, something that UW-Madison officials say would put students at risk of identity theft.
That’s an easy out that doesn’t reflect current realities and “ups the fear factor,” Roberg said. The Wiscards already are debit cards of a sort, used by students to purchase meals and open to theft if they are lost or stolen, she said. And most students already carry a debit card or credit card that bears their signature.
In a resolution adopted Nov. 3, Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison City Council urged UW-Madison “to demonstrate its stated commitment to civic engagement, lead in a manner befitting a flagship, world class university, and empower its students to engage in the ‘sifting and winnowing’ espoused in the Wisconsin Idea,” by reissuing student ID cards that comply with current voter ID laws.
The county board resolution up for a vote Thursday focuses on how the voter ID laws and second ID requirement for out-of-state students will impact campus polling places in presidential balloting.
“Thousands of students will likely not vote in the Presidential election who would have voted but for a lack of ID or exceptionally long lines,” it reads.
Primary sponsor Leland Pan said the need for smoother access to the voting booth by students is clear, and the county clerk, whose office administers local elections, has expressed his concerns to university officials.
Pan said he understands UW-Madison is coping with what officials tally as $68 million in cuts to state funding this year, but that officials need to demonstrate their priorities.
“The university is a billion dollar institution, and something like this is a priority issue,” Pan said. “If they want to prioritize student engagement and accessibility, they can find the money. It this is not a high priority, they need to iterate what is a high priority.”
The Associated Students of Madison, the campus student government body, also endorsed a resolution calling for Wiscards that can be used to vote. And the UW-Madison College Democrats and the College Republicans of UW-Madison issued a joint statement urging officials to gradually replace student ID cards with ones that comply with state voter ID regulations.
Pan said that student positions have also been ignored on labor issues involving university trademark licensees, shared governance and student wages.
“The current administration has repeatedly treated students as if they are only here to go to class, but many students want to civically engaged,” he said.
UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said Wednesday that Berquam, Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Everett Mitchell, director of community relations, have met on the issue in recent months with legislators, students, local officials and other stakeholders.
“The university believes that it has been extremely responsive to the concerns that have been expressed,” Lucas said.
While the student voter ID card is available primarily during business hours on weekdays at Union South, it has also been made available at student orientation and will be available during “expanded hours in student-friendly areas” next semester, he said.
“We believe that the students who are in need of this card, estimated to be 6,000, will be well-served by these steps, compared with the costly and logistically onerous process to replace all student IDs, which would require each student to replace their card multiple times during their UW careers,” Lucas said.