Carly Stumpner, a junior biology major at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, had an hour between classes to vote during Wisconsin’s April 5 presidential primary. But when she arrived at her polling place on campus, the line stretched for two hours across the student union. She returned to the polls a second time after her classes, but the line had only grown, and Stumpner had to get to a meeting for work. She wasn’t able to vote because of the long wait times, a frustrating experience for her and many students at UWGB that day.
When polls closed at 8 pm, there were still 150 students waiting to vote. “Some people described it as chaos,” reported Ellery McCardle of the local ABC affiliate. “People were standing shoulder to shoulder, there was absolutely no room to move around in here.”
After the 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 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.
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?”
In 2014, Wisconsin’s Republican legislature eliminated early-voting hours on nights and weekends and restricted early-voting sites to one location per city. GOP State Senator Glenn Grothman, who’s now a member of Congress, cited extended early-voting hours in heavily Democratic cities like Madison and Milwaukee and said, “I want to nip this in the bud before too many other cities get on board.”