UW-Madison won’t change its student identification cards to make them compliant with the state law requiring a photo ID to vote, but officials are planning a range of efforts to ensure thousands of students who need them receive separate cards they can use on Election Day.
Student groups and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell called on the university earlier this month to make several changes to its student IDs, called Wiscards, to make them acceptable identification for voting. Failing to do so could lead to long lines at the polls if students failed to bring the right identification, they warned, and would make it harder for students to vote.
But campus officials said changing the IDs would be too expensive, costing an estimated $2 million over the first five years and $375,000 to $600,000 per year after that. Dean of Students Lori Berquam said it would also create logistical headaches for everyone who uses the cards — students and non-students alike — when only a fraction of students will actually need them to vote.
Rather than replace Wiscards, UW-Madison has since 2012 given students who need an ID another card specifically made for voting.
Those cards, which have been approved by the Government Accountability Board, are free and easy to get, Berquam said. Students need only show up at the Wiscard office in room 145 of Union South with their student ID, she said, and their voting ID would be ready in minutes.
“Getting the voter ID is really painless — especially right now,” Berquam said. “I don’t think it will impede voting.”
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The university estimates about 6,400 students — many of them non-residents who don’t have Wisconsin IDs and aren’t voting absentee in their home states — will need voter ID cards.
With a presidential primary and election coming next year, officials on Wednesday announced new steps they will take to make sure students know about and get the cards.
The university plans to make the voting IDs available to incoming Badgers when they first receive Wiscards during student orientation, as well as whenever students need a replacement Wiscard.
Campus administrators will also place volunteers at campus-area polling places on Election Day to talk with voters and make sure they have the credentials they need. And officials will publicize the voter ID cards on social media and in university communications with students.
Making Wiscards compliant with voting rules, as UW-Madison’s College Democrats and College Republicans called for in an Oct. 10 statement, would have required adding student signatures to the IDs and giving the cards an expiration date no more than two years after they were issued.
Berquam pointed out that every student, resident or not, would have to replace their IDs multiple times through their college careers if Wiscards expired every two years. The IDs also function as debit cards for student meal plans and keys to university buildings — functions that would also be disrupted when the cards expired.
“Reissuing that to a student every two years is pretty costly,” Berquam said.