Politically active students from both major parties at UW-Madison agree on at least one thing: their student ID cards should also function as voter IDs, allowing them to vote.
The UW-Madison College Democrats and the College Republicans of UW-Madison issued a joint statement this weekend urging officials to gradually replace student ID cards, known as the Wiscard, with one that complies with state voter ID regulations.
In the meantime, stickers can be added to the current ID cards — one for a signature and one for a two-year expiration date, to make current Wiscards acceptable as voter IDs, the student groups argue.
UW-Madison has offered free voter ID cards to students since 2012, the year after the state Legislature passed a law requiring voter IDs. The issue reemerged last week, after Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell told Channel 3000 he disagreed with UW’s decision to issue a separate voter ID card. He has been meeting with university officials on the issue.
The State of Wisconsin was in federal court last week, fighting the ACLU's request that a judge add IDs for veterans, IDs for students attending technical colleges and out-of-state driver's licenses to the list of compliant IDs. University student IDs can be used to vote under the new law if they have a signature and are issued for periods of no more than two years.
Critics of Wisconsin’s voter ID law say it makes voting more difficult for low-income and minority residents who may not hold an accepted ID and find it difficult to get one. The Wisconsin Voter ID law has been challenged on the basis of its disparate impact, but it was upheld by the courts.
Court challenges have kept the voter ID requirements from being imposed in regular elections to far. Upcoming statewide elections of note in 2016 include a February primary for Supreme Court justice, an April Supreme Court election and presidential preference primary, and the November presidential and U.S. Senator election.
McDonell said Monday that requiring a separate student voter ID by failing to make the Wiscard compliant will "absolutely depress the vote" on campus for the presidential election, where the strongest student voter turnout is seen.
When voter ID was required for a special election in Waukesha County this summer, registration time doubled, McDonell said.
About one-third of student voters typically register to vote on election day, so the prospect of delays in voting will be high at campus polling places, he said.
And if students head to the polling place with a Wiscard and an out-of-state drivers license and find they can cast only a provisional ballot -- which McDonell said can take 10 minutes to process -- the lines "will be around the block."
If the presidential vote in the battleground state of Wisconsin were very close and provisional votes needed to be counted, "it could be like Florida all over again," McDonell said, referring to the 2000 Bush v. Gore election when the disputed legality of the vote count in Florida meant a winner was not known until a U.S. Supreme Court decision more than a month later.
University officials say that adding a signature to the Wiscard — in addition to the information already on it — would increase the risk of identity theft. They point out that the Wiscard is used as a debit card, for library services and for secure access to residence halls, labs and other secure spaces.
The additional cost of making Wiscards that expire in two years is estimated at more than $2 million over five years, with continuing annual costs ranging from $375,000 to $600,000, they say.
August McGinnity-Wake, press secretary for the College Democrats, said Monday that getting a UW-Madison Voter ID is as inconvenient as getting a voter ID compliant card from the state.
Getting to the few outlets where they are available during business hours can be difficult, he said. “Asking us to go to another office to get another card is no different from telling us to go to the DMV and get a card issued by the state.”
UW-Madison officials say they are committed to ensuring that students can vote and point out that 1,100 student voter ID cards have been provided since it was offered. Says McGinnity-Wake: “Tens of thousands of students don’t have cards that are compliant.”
This post has been updated.