GOP Proposal Aims to Encourage Out-of-State UW Students to Vote From Home

A proposed bill introduced by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin aims to require University of Wisconsin schools to provide out-of-state students with information on how to vote absentee in their home states. The intention behind the bill is to promote civic participation among students in their home communities, a place they are more familiar with compared to their college campuses. However, opponents argue that the bill is an attempt to limit the influence of the predominantly Democratic student vote in close statewide elections. Under the proposed legislation, students would still have the option to choose whether they vote in Wisconsin or in their home states.

According to the bill’s co-sponsorship memo, the goal of the proposed legislation is to ensure that every non-resident student attending a University of Wisconsin school has access to the necessary information and guidance required to vote absentee in their respective home states. One of the reasons cited for the bill is a 2020 study that revealed only 15% of non-Wisconsin resident students choose to remain in Wisconsin after graduating.

The memo continues by stating that college students from out of state often return to their home states following graduation and are usually more involved and connected to the political landscape of those states. The bill simply seeks to require the University of Wisconsin System to provide non-resident students with information on voting absentee, ensuring they have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote in their home states.

The student vote in Wisconsin has proven to be impactful in past elections. During the spring 2023 election, long lines were observed at campus polling locations across the state, with the high turnout among students cited as a contributing factor to Janet Protasiewicz’s decisive victory in the Supreme Court race that year.

Although the large student population in Madison contributes to the Democratic Party’s strength in Dane County, Wisconsin residents make up less than half of the roughly 37,000 undergraduate students. Representative Clint Moses (R-Menomonie), one of the co-authors of the bill, voiced concerns about college students, who may not be fully integrated into the community or pay property taxes, casting decisive votes in local races.

Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) argued that paying property taxes is not a requirement for voting and emphasized that college is a period when students become more politically engaged and informed about local issues in their place of residence. He believes the focus should be on finding ways to retain out-of-state students in Wisconsin after graduation to address workforce challenges and attract individuals to the state.

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