GOP Bill Would Encourage Out-Of-State UW Students to Vote at Home

This bill provides non-resident students with additional information and options to engage with their right to vote.

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A bill from Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature would require University of Wisconsin schools to provide out-of-state students with information on how to vote absentee in their home states.

The bill’s authors say the proposal is a way to encourage civic participation from students in communities they know better than their college campuses, but opponents say it’s an effort to remove the largely Democratic student vote from close statewide elections. Students would still be able to decide if they want to vote in Wisconsin or their home states.

“We want to encourage maximum civic participation, but out-of-state students are not often provided the information on how to vote in their state of residence,” the bill’s co-sponsorship memo states. “This bill would require the Universities of Wisconsin to provide non-resident students information on how to vote absentee in their home state. The goal is to make sure that every UW student has the best information on how to vote before they vote. A 2020 study shows that only 15% of non-Wisconsin resident students stay in Wisconsin after graduating.”

“College students from out of state typically move back to their home state after graduating and do not stay here in Wisconsin,” the memo continues. “Students are typically more involved in their home state where they grew up and have ties to. This bill would simply require the UW System to give students information on voting absentee so they are able to vote in their home state.”

The student vote in Wisconsin is often consequential. In the spring 2023 election, long lines were seen at campus polling locations across the state and the heavy turnout among students was cited as a reason for Janet Protasiewicz’s comfortable margin of victory in last spring’s Supreme Court race.

In Madison, the large student population is one source of the Democratic Party’s strength in Dane County, yet Wisconsin residents make up less than half of the approximately 37,000 undergraduate students.

Rep. Clint Moses (R-Menomonie) told Wisconsin Public Radio his concern is college students casting deciding votes in local races when they aren’t fully entrenched in the community and don’t pay property taxes.

“Why should a student be voting on these when they are not gonna have any of the impact of it? They’re not paying any of the property taxes in our area,” Moses, one of the bill’s co-authors, said.

Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) said that paying property taxes isn’t a requirement to vote and noted that college is often when students become more politically engaged and informed about local issues where they live. He added that the Legislature should be finding ways to keep out-of-state students in Wisconsin after graduation.

“We are constantly talking about workforce challenges and we know that the only way to solve that is gonna be to bring people into our state,” he told WPR. “And bringing them here for college and then spending those four years convincing them that Wisconsin is where they wanna spend their rest of their lives is one of the ways that we can do that.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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