New voting laws prompt efforts to educate students across nation

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Last year, changes tightening Wisconsin voter ID laws sparked controversy among college students across the state, with some students and state officials claiming the new requirements would dissuade student participation in elections. Now, advocate groups have reacted to these concerns and sought to educate students about what they need for the polls.

The Campus Vote Project, an initiative started in 2012 by the Fair Elections Legal Network, aims to mobilize students on college campuses across the country to work with college administrators and election officials to educate students about voting.

According to Campus Vote Project’s website, the organization hopes to “overcome barriers students often face to voting that students often mention such as residency laws, registration deadlines, and strict voter ID requirements.”

Students who contact the Campus Vote Project can receive a “tool kit,” which includes information about roadblocks to student voting and how to educate colleges about voting requirements.

According to Josh Spaulding, communications and policy manager for the Campus Vote Project, the idea for the project came as an answer to the unique challenges that college voters face.

“The idea behind the Campus Vote Project came about because young people every election have been vastly underrepresented at the polls,” Spaulding said. “They face challenges that no other age group faces, students even more so. Students often lack the information about when, where and how to register to vote. They also face problems with having proper identification and access to transportation to get to the polls.”

The Campus Vote Project also hopes to create permanent institutions on college campuses that can help increase student voter turnout. While the program is still in its infancy, Spaulding said they are optimistic about its success.

“We’re working with a bunch of national partners to reach university presidents about the campaign as well as student groups that may be interested,” Spaulding said. “We’ve already had several student leaders at colleges across the country reach out to us, and we’re in the beginning stages of planning goals for those campuses.”

College voters in Wisconsin have been especially affected by new voter ID laws, particularly the new requirements for student IDs to be used at the polls. Reid Magney, public information officer at Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, said that universities around the state have responded to student needs in terms of voting.

“Many universities have taken measures to make it easier for students to vote,” Magney said. “The idea is that if you don’t have any of the other types of student ID, the university can provide you with an alternate ID that meets the requirements.”

Marquette is now providing separate student voter IDs for students without a Wisconsin ID. Last year, Marquette University Student Government also took a stance on the issue by passing a resolution supporting allowing students to use college IDs to vote.

“The MUSG Senate unanimously passed Resolution number 3 “Wisconsin Voter ID Legislation” further encouraging the use of student identification cards for voting purposes last spring,” said MUSG President Joey Ciccone. “The Wisconsin state legislature now requires voters to show an ID card when voting, and college ID cards are one of the accepted forms of identification. MUSG has also worked with the university to meet these demands with the establishment of a MU Voter ID Card.”

The Government Accountability Board has also taken steps to educate and motivate student voters in Wisconsin. Its initiative and ad campaign called “Bring it to the Ballot” includes a series of commercials and a website that includes basic voter ID requirements, DMV locations and instructions to get a free state voter ID card.

Magney added that the “Bring it to the Ballot” project is meant to educate students not only about voter ID laws but also procedural changes made to the voting process.

“You now have to sign a poll book when you vote,” Magney said. “Wisconsin also doesn’t have straight party voting anymore. These are some of the most important changes that voters need to remember.”