WI Clerk Cites Students' Dem Lean As Reason Not To Open Campus Voting Site

John Hart

A Wisconsin city clerk said that she had heard "students lean more toward the democrats" and cited it as a reason not to open a campus early voting site, as some college groups had requested, according to an email surfaced by The Nation Tuesday.

Her admission reflects an elections administration culture where even low-level bureaucrats are on alert for any voting protocol that appears to make it easier for Democratic-leaning groups to vote, in a state that has passed a number of voting restrictions that have drawn scrutiny from federal courts.

In the email sent in August to an official at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske said there were staffing, budgetary and ballot security issues that turned her off to the idea of putting an early voting site on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus, as a state representative had proposed.

She added, however, "I was reading the statutes and read: No site may be designated that affords an advantage to any political party."

“UWGB is a polling location for students and residents on Election Day but I feel by asking for this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city as a whole," the email continued. "I have heard that that students lean more toward the democrats and he [the state representative] is a democrat."

Teske goes on to ask the ethics official to weigh in as to whether she has "an argument about it being more of a benefit to the democrats?”

The email was provided to The Nation via an open records request filed by One Wisconsin Institute, which successfully sued the state over its attempt to cut back early voting.

The request for the early voting site on the campus came from eight different student groups, including the college Republican and Libertarian organizations, and from state Rep. Eric Genrich (D), according to The Nation. The Nation report detailed the trouble some students had casting ballots during the primary, as off-campus polling places attracted long lines that some students said amounted to too long of a wait for their busy college schedules. The nearest early voting site for students is at the clerk's office, a 15-minute-drive from campus, and is only open during business hours, The Nation said.

While Teske argued there were budgetary issues in opening the early voting site -- which she said she had confirmed with the mayor's chief of staff and other City Hall officials --- The Nation pointed out that the city had a surplus that could have funded the $10,000 proposal Genrich had offered for a campus site open for 20 hours the week before the election.

Teske was appointed by Republican Mayor Jim Schmitt, who is an ally of Gov. Scott Walker (R), a voting restriction proponent, according to The Nation.

A federal judge struck down in July a 2014 Wisconsin law that had scaled back early voting. He left in place, however, the state's voter ID law, while ruling the state needed to do a better job of making sure voters who did not have the required ID would be able to get the free state ID available for voting. (He has since had to issue an additional order knocking the state for struggling to implement this process.)

Students were also among the targets of the Wisconsin voter ID law, according to voting rights advocates. The law only allows for student IDs to be used if they have a signature and expire within two years after their issuance date, even as the regular drivers' licenses that are accepted are good for 10 years. Only a few Wisconsin colleges issue IDs meeting those qualifications.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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