Janesville, Wisconsin — Bernie Sanders’ backers worry Scott Walker’s new voter ID law could give Hillary Clinton a boost in Wisconsin by keeping enthusiastic college students away from the polls.
The law, which Walker signed in 2011 and is just now being fully implemented after the conclusion of a court battle, requires that voters show a state-issued photo ID at the polls—a hurdle that can be especially tough for college students who don’t have drivers’ licenses.
Progressives have long held that the Republican legislature made these changes as part of an effort to depress the votes of African-Americans, college students, and other core Democratic constituencies. But progressives say that on Tuesday, one of the law’s top benefactors may be Hillary Clinton.
That’s because of the unique challenges it makes for college kids, who vote overwhelmingly for Sanders. U.S. citizens who have lived in Wisconsin for at least 28 days are eligible to vote there—but the I.D. rules are especially tricky for college students who moved there from other states.
Sanders has repeatedly blasted the new rules from the stump—even saying Walker is engaged in voter suppression.
“That is a cowardly, unAmerican act,” he told the Janesville crowd.
And he added that low voter turnout would jeopardize his chances in the state.
“We will win here tomorrow if there is a large voter turnout,” he said. “We will lose if there is a small voter turnout.”
Some of his backers say they are particularly concerned about how the law impacts college students.
“That is a concern of mine, and it was a concern of the campaign,” said Marcos Arroyo, a college student who warmed up the Janesville crowd before Sanders spoke.
Arroyo, who is the secretary of the Beloit College Democrats, said his club has made it a top priority to help students understand complex new rules. He added that many Beloit students are from out-of-state.
“It just gets difficult,” he said. “And a large portion of them are not aware of the change.”
Chris Larson, a Democratic state senator, said he thinks the new provision could keep up to one-tenth of college students from voting. He added that since students vote overwhelmingly for Sanders, their loss is Hillary’s gain.
“Do they know the specific IDs that they need?” he said. “Are they going to go through the trouble to figure that out? If there’s a hiccup are they going to go march home, get it, come back?”
College students can’t use drivers licenses from states other than Wisconsin to vote. And most of the photo IDs their schools automatically issue aren’t compliant with the law, explained Analiese Eicher, program director for the progressive group One Wisconsin Now. So out-of-state students have to get a special ID from their schools so they can vote. They also have to bring a document proving they’re enrolled at the school, and another document proving they reside in Wisconsin—for instance, a lease or an electricity bill in their name.
“For some college students living off-campus, if your electricity bill is in your roommate’s name, that completely eliminates that option for you,” Eicher said.
Students originally from Wisconsin who want to use their compliant student ID’s must also bring an official university document saying they’re enrolled.
Republicans introduced the voter ID law in January of 2011, the same month Walker was inaugurated. But it’s just now being fully implemented, since the Supreme Court declined to hear a court case challenging it.
All the extra hoops could depress student voter turnout. Voter ID laws also disproportionately impact African-American voters, who thus far have favored Clinton in the Democratic primary. Reached for comment, Hillary for Wisconsin press secretary Yianni Varonis said the former secretary of state also staunchly opposes Wisconsin’s new voter ID laws.
“Hillary Clinton believes our democracy is strongest when more Americans can make their voices heard, not fewer,” she said. “That’s why she has repeatedly spoken out against restrictive and unnecessary laws that block access to the ballot box—like the voter ID requirement in Wisconsin—and proposed proactive measures like automatic registration for 18 year olds to ensure all eligible Americans can participate.”
Progressives in the state say the uniquely challenging requirements for college students mean the new law will likely hurt Sanders most.
Matt Rothschild, who heads the progressive Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said it was “for sure” that the new ID requirements would help Clinton.
The RealClearPolitics average indicates that the former is most likely. It currently gives Sanders a 3.1-point lead over his rival in the Badger State.
But the new law could hinder some of his most dogged backers. Emily Saliby, a Wisconsin native and student at U-W Madison, said about ten of her friends from out-of-state were having trouble gearing up for the election.
“It’s really hard for them to register through Madison because they don’t have a Wisconsin license,” she said.
She added that almost all of those friends are Sanders supporters.
“They’re going to vote,” she said. “They’re going to at least try.”