You've probably heard about the latest bout of WisGOP voter suppression going on, this time in the City of Green Bay. Ari Berman of the Nation blew the cover off of this with an article yesterday that detailed the behind-the-scenes discussions
that happened in Titletown as the city finalized early voting plans for the Fall elections.
After the [April presidential] primary, leaders of eight different student groups—including the Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties and the Black Student Union—asked the city to put an early-voting location on campus to alleviate long lines. But city officials ignored the request and opened only one early-voting site on September 26 for the entire city—the third-largest in Wisconsin—at the clerk’s office, a 15-minute drive from campus, which is open only during business hours. City Clerk Kris Teske, an appointee of Republican Mayor [and soon-to-be convicted criminal] Jim Schmitt, a close ally of Governor Scott Walker, said the city didn’t have the money, time, or security to open an early-voting location on campus or anywhere else.
“For this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city...”
But privately Teske gave a different reason for opposing an early-voting site at UW–Green Bay, writing that student voting would benefit the Democratic 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,” she wrote on August 26 in an e-mail to David Buerger, counsel at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. “I have heard it said that students lean more toward the democrats…. I have spoken with our Chief of Staff and others at City Hall and they agree that budget wise this isn’t going to happen. Do I have an argument about it being more of a benefit to the democrats?”
The e-mails were provided to The Nation following an open-records request by the One Wisconsin Institute, which has successfully challenged early-voting cutbacks in the state.
First of all, if GB thought having multiple early voting sites was too expensive to do, could be legitimate and certainly seems legal (although that excuse seems flimsy and somewhat undemocratic). Not doing it because it benefits one party or the other, however, is not a good reason, and likely not legal. And very stupid to say in an email that is subject to open records and legal discovery.
The state Elections Commission's lawyer said budgetary reasons were likely a sufficient excuse, and expressed skepticism about Teske's idea that early voting would favor Democrats.
Nathan Judnic, the Wisconsin Elections Commission's legal counsel, wrote Teske her concerns about budget, staffing and ballot security "are all legitimate factors that other communities were weighing as they considered whether to open multiple early voting sites."
"As far as stating that one political party may be advantaged more because of a particular location, I might be hesitant to make that argument unless you could point to something other than 'I've heard that students lean more democratic,'" Judnic wrote. "Additionally, the in-person sites could be used by all residents of the city and wouldn't be restricted to use by students. Finally, if the campus polling location is OK for election day, and there is no 'political advantage' then, I'm not sure what the difference is for in-person absentee voting at that same location?"
And that led me to ask a simple question- do UW-Green Bay students vote for Dems more than other residents of Green Bay?
The assumption is yes, because college students and younger voters generally have favored Democrats in the state and the country in the Obama era, but it's relatively easy to test this theory for UWGB, because one city ward for voting is largely contained to the UWGB campus- Ward 3.
So I went the GAB's site with records of past elections in Wisconsin, and compared what happened in that ward compared to the rest of the city. And you know what? Other than the elections last April, the GB students haven't been all that much different, and actually favored Scott Walker in 2014 more than the rest of the Green Bay did.
UW-Green Bay student vote
2012 November election
Ward 3, Green Bay- Obama 56.9%, Romney 41.1%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Obama 56.6%, Romney 41.9%
2014 November election
Ward 3, Green Bay- Walker 51.4%, Burke 45.6%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Walker 50.6%, Burke 47.9%
2016 Votes, Presidential Primary
Ward 3, Green Bay- Dem 61.3%, GOP 38.7%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Dem 51.5%, GOP 48.5%
Ward 3, Green Bay- Kloppenburg 54.0%, Bradley 45.6%
Rest of City of Green Bay- Bradley 53.1%, Kloppenburg 46.6%
In other words, Teske's theory that UWGB "favors Democrats" compared to the rest of the city generally doesn't pan out. Guess they're not big at looking at data down at GB City Hall.
By comparison to GOP-run Green Bay, the City of Madison has actively encouraged early voting for its residents, both in having large amount of days to early vote, and in having numerous sites around the city. It seems to be paying off, as the numbers that came out today have to scare the daylights out of the Trump and Ron Johnson campaigns.
As of Tuesday, the City of Madison Clerk had issued a total of 35,497 absentee ballots and had 31,421 returned to be counted, shattering the previous records of 32,012 issued in 2008 and 29,199 returned in 2012.
The City has also established another new record with 26,527 absentee ballots cast in person at early voting locations. The previous high was 18,752 ballots cast in person in 2012.
The Madison Clerk's office expanded both the early voting period for 2016 and the number of locations, after a federal court struck down a state law in August that had limited early voting to two weeks prior to the election with no weekend hours and only allowed cities to provide one location for people to cast in-person absentee ballots.
In response to the court's ruling, the City of Madison started in person absentee voting on September 26 at 11 different locations, which expanded to 13 locations this week and to 14 by next week.
What we don’t know is how much of that early vote in Madison is being done by UW students, and how much of it is from everyone else. And what’s interesting is that when you look at the “liberal UW-Madison” student vote (which I derived by looking at the results from 17 wards in areas on or near campus where UW students live), and the checked the results from that area for the November elections of 2012 and 2014, and the April 2016 Supreme Court race/presidential primary, the Republican candidate actually did better
on/near campus than in the rest of the city.
City of Madison vote
UW Student Wards- Obama 72.5%, Romney 24.6%
Rest of the City- Obama 79.4%, Romney 19.0%
UW Student Wards- Burke 69.0%, Walker 29.2%
Rest of the City- Burke 79.8%, Walker 19.1%
Supreme Court, April 2016
UW Student Wards- Kloppenburg 76.6%, Bradley 22.8%
Rest of the City- Kloppenburg 80.4%, Bradley 19.4%
Of course, there are still big Dem advantages in the student wards of Madison, as those areas gave Obama an extra 12,000 votes over Romney, while Burke beat Walker by over 7,000 votes, and Kloppenburg beat Bradley by over 9,700. But at least in Green Bay and Madison, we don't see the breakdown in how students vote being that much different than the vote in the rest of those cities. Yes, that vote will likely more rural leaning than the redder rural areas (who generally aren't affected by how much time is given to early voting), but it does show that encouraging early voting in student areas at UWGB and UW-Madison would be more for boosting overall student turnout than in favoring one side over the other.
But it's those increased margins in Madison and increased proportion of the electorate for UWGB college students that explain the real strategy behind the GOP’s voter suppression. They are choosing to hold down the vote totals of UW students rather than develop policies and ideas that might get more of those students to vote for them. That's what WisGOP fears- having more young people voting PERIOD, because then they have to care more about what young people think, and the WisGOPs might want to think twice before screwing over the UW again, or in placating narrow special-interests by passing regressive social legislation. But the sad fact is that all of us, not just the young folks, are the ones losing in Wisconsin because of those kinds of bills and the backwards approach that goes with them.