New law stirs debate over deputies to register voters
Group says registering voters more difficult due to Act 23
A student-based group trying to get college-aged voters registered and to the polls said parts of the voter ID law are stopping students from registering other voters.
Analiese Eicher is the government relations director for United Council of University of Wisconsin Students. She said the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization works on all 26 campuses of the University of Wisconsin System with a focus on civic engagement.
However, Act 23 eliminated a statewide registration deputy position, one responsible for training people who wanted to have the ability to register voters. With that, the training is now completely up to the local clerks' offices. Clerks always had the authority and ability to train deputies for their individual municipalities, but now that's the only way to be authorized to vote.
"We've been significantly hindered by not being able to be deputized statewide," Eicher said.
According to Eicher, some of her members at smaller universities saw their training significantly delayed to where they only had a couple of weeks of open registration to get students signed up and ready for the election on Nov. 6. In other situations, Eicher said the clerk refused to train hopeful deputies.
"There's a lot of frustration, a lot of students feeling disenfranchised by the process," Eicher said.
Eicher stressed that while students can still push voter education or even relay information about where and how people can register, having the people on campuses is important. She said a lot of lifetime voters begin with registering at age 18.
"Those folks are on your campus. They're actively present, and those students live busy lives," Eicher said.
Even if members are trained, Eicher said it is just for the municipality where they receive that training. She said that brings another challenge for her organization.
"Students are coming from the surrounding areas and looking to register to vote while they're on campus and engaging in that civic participation, but they're unable to because there's not a deputy for their municipality," Eicher said.
While Eicher said these deputies make it easier for clerks come Election Day, Dane County Clerk Karen Peters said the statewide system created major issues for her office.
"The deadlines were being missed. There was a lot of miscommunication," Peters said.
Peters said information was constantly sent to the wrong place, and the Government Accountability Board would have to submit forms late because it took so long to sort out where registrations needed to go. In addition, Peters said uniform training sounded good in theory but is not the best logistical choice for clerks.
"When you do it statewide and you have these mass trainings, you really don't have a lot of control over what people are doing and you don't have control over whether they're doing the job correctly," Peters said.
Peters said that in the Madison area, 3,000 specialty deputies have been trained by the city clerk and not the statewide trainer.
Peters added that not all clerks' offices focus on this kind of training, which could make it tough for municipalities with smaller universities. She said people do not need proof of residence to register with a deputy during open registration, which also could make it easier for students to do so.
Eicher said she believes any lack of training is likely a product of resource shortages in the clerks' offices and the fact that they don't have to offer that training under law.
Anyone can register to vote on Election Day.
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