EDITORIAL: University failed to proactively communicate voter information, provide resources

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With knowledge that many students would be away from campus in response to the coronavirus, Marquette University should have been more proactive and forthcoming with voter information for students who wanted to vote in the Wisconsin primary election April 7. 

The unique situation posed by the coronavirus pandemic necessitates that the university provide students with crucial information and resources to take part in elections. 

Jen Reid, director of student affairs, sent Marquette students an email March 27 regarding voting updates, and the information was also included in a news briefThe email and news brief stated that if students didn’t have their voter ID cards by March 27, there was no way for them to get the cards unless they were able to pick them up in person on campus.

Because out-of-state students do not meet the necessary photo ID requirements to vote in Wisconsin — such as having a Wisconsin ID or driver license — they have to obtain a voter ID card issued from an accredited university, college or technical college. Before classes moved online, students could get Marquette voter ID cards at Union Station in the Alumni Memorial Union.

After the university announced March 12 that classes would be moved online, many students remained home rather than on campus. This made it potentially unsafe and impractical for students to travel back to Marquette.  

As of March 30, the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed that it would accept scanned copies of the voter ID cards, meaning that students could get their cards digitally and use them to register. With March 30 also being the last day to register to vote online in Wisconsin, many students were unable to get the ID card in time to meet the deadline. 

Reid told the Marquette Wire that the university Office of Public Affairs had reached out to the Elections Commission with a proposed process and the proposal was accepted, allowing the scanned ID option. This action was taken too late for many students.

Additionally, students were not properly informed about the update. After the initial March 27 email, the university did not directly provide students with any further information via email.

While the university did updated its voter information website, many students are either not aware of the website or not checking it as often as their emails. 

The university’s deadline to request a voter ID card was April 5 at 5 p.m., according to an April 1 news brief. This deadline may have been feasible for students who planned on voting and registering in-person on Election Day. However, students wanting to request absentee ballots may have been unable to do so as the initial deadline to request absentee ballots in Wisconsin was April 2 at 5 p.m, later being extended by just one day to April 3 at 5 p.m.

Without consistent communication from the university about voting information updates, some students hoping to get voter ID cards to vote in Wisconsin could not do so with enough time to register to vote online or request absentee ballots. 

Students living in other states may have decided to pass on voting in their home states’ primaries that occurred before the Wisconsin primary. With the desire to vote in Wisconsin, out-of-state students were depending on the voter ID card to practice that right.

For instance, Minnesota’s primary election was March 3, Illinois’ primary election was March 17 and Michigan’s primary election was March 10.  

Some students who planned to vote in the Wisconsin primary election missed the opportunity to do so because they were not given the necessary information or resources in enough time. 

The university must be more communicative with students about voting information in the future, especially under unprecedented circumstances. While its voter information website is helpful, that information is lost on many students without direct communication via email.

Marquette should be especially proactive in ensuring that students get voter ID cards when out-of-state students comprise the majority of the student population. As of spring 2020, only about 42% of Marquette students are from Wisconsin, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis

In addition to not adequately informing students about the ID cards, the university did not inform students about changes made to the voting process.

Governor Tony Evers pushed for a postponement of the Wisconsin April 7 election date a day before elections were to be held. This decision was overruled by the Wisconsin state Supreme Court April 6.

Additionally, after a federal judge ruled to extend the absentee ballot return date from April 7 to April 13, the ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately said all absentee ballots were to be postmarked or dropped off in person by April 7. In-person voting took place April 7 in Wisconsin. 

Marquette did not directly provide students with information regarding any of these changes.

The university must make resources more readily known and accessible to students, such as sending emails with prompt updates and reminding them of helpful websites. If students do not know these resources exist, they cannot utilize them. 

Marquette should also take action to advocate for students’ right to vote with enough time for students to exercise that right.

In the future, the university must protect and promote students’ ability to vote by providing adequate voting information and updates to prepare for circumstances that may change daily life.