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UW-Madison student voter turnout rose in 2020 election despite COVID-19 obstacles
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2020 ELECTION | UW-MADISON

UW-Madison student voter turnout rose in 2020 election despite COVID-19 obstacles

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Student Vote

Elizabeth Quirmbach, right, helped UW-Madison sophomore Ayuka Sinanoglu, center, register to vote in the 2020 election.

Voting on the UW-Madison campus increased in last year’s election with nearly three in every four eligible students casting a ballot, according to a report released Tuesday.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic complicating the voting process for students, many of whom were newly eligible to cast ballots, voter turnout on campus increased from 65% in the 2016 election to 73% in 2020. In total, 24,572 UW–Madison students voted out of 33,749 who were eligible in the 2020 election.

UW-Madison’s uptick in voting mirrors a national trend identified in a report by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, creators of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. The proportion of college students who voted in the 2020 presidential election hit a record 66%, up 14 percentage points from 2016 and outpacing the 6 percentage point increase of all Americans.

Unlike in past elections, where more than half of UW-Madison students voted in person on Election Day, just 18% did so last year, the report said. About 16% voted early and in-person and 64% voted through other means, such as mail-in voting and dropping ballots off at a dropbox.

“Our student body and the BadgersVote team should be proud that so many of our eligible students overcame the challenges of the pandemic to cast ballots in the presidential election,” said UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden, who served as faculty of BadgersVote, a university-wide initiative encouraging campus voting.

National Voter Registration Day is usually a time when many campus groups work to sign up students and answer questions with a range of in-person events and activities. It fell last fall on a day when two of UW-Madison’s largest dorms were under quarantine, nearly 500 infected students were sequestered in isolation housing and few others had reason to come to campus because all classes had temporarily moved online.

Yet the report noted that the university’s voter registration rate increased from 80% in 2016 to 85% in 2020. Get-out-the-vote efforts mostly moved online, with publicity campaigns, podcasts, discussion panels and social media drives.

UW-Madison also helped students with the question of voter ID. Traditionally, the university provides a plastic ID card for students who don’t have access to a Wisconsin driver’s license, U.S. passport or other federal ID. But with the pandemic posing problems with ID distribution, various campus partners created a website for students to download an electronic version of the ID to be printed, signed and presented. Staff also organized to have computers and printers at campus polling places. More than 2,700 students were able to access the voter ID website to obtain their cards, according to the university.

“We encourage our students to stay informed, participate in political conversations, and cast their votes,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement. “Civic participation is what makes our democracy work.”

Watch Now: Scenes from the polls on Election Day in Wisconsin

Wisconsin has lived up to expectations it would have outsized influence in the presidential election. See scenes from Election Day across the state. 

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