GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – In September, student government officials at UW-Green Bay asked the city for an early voting site after the campus was plagued with hours-long voting lines during the April primary, causing some students to not vote.
Emails, first reported by The Nation magazine, show Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske opposed the early voting site due to staffing, security, budgets, and a state statute that reads “no site may be designated that affords an advantage to any political party.” Teske went on to say she heard college students lean more Democrat, and an early voting site on the UWGB campus could give Democrats an unfair advantage.
Since the release of those emails, student government leaders have questioned why the city handled it the way they did.
“We had two-hour wait lines,” Nikolaus Austin recalled.
On Sunday, the campus community may get some answers.
As president of UW-Green Bay’s Student Government Association, Austin says part of his job is to make sure all student voices are heard, and that includes giving everyone a chance to vote.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Austin says, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
So when Austin’s request for an early voting location on campus to ease the long lines many students experienced in April was denied, he was upset.
“I will be honest with you, and this is unfortunate, but I do feel a little defeated,” he said. “I think they really kind of blew a chance to do the right thing, and they kind of blew a chance to really make their constituents happy.”
Although the campus did not get an early voting cite, the Green Bay mayor’s chief of staff says the city has put more resources into UWGB.
“That is our busiest polling location in terms of turnout,” Celestine Jeffreys said.
Jeffreys said they have almost doubled the number of poll workers, split the poll books and added an on-site deputy clerk.
The city is also planning an on-campus listening session on Sunday.
“The city attorney, Vanessa Chavez, and I have offered to go out to UWGB,” Jeffreys said, “to just listening to their concerns and to really improve the lines of communication, and then also move forward to ensure voting remains strong and flows well at UWGB for all elections to come.”
Austin says he’s happy the city reached out but ultimately, he says, it’s a little too late.
“It seems like what they should have done a while ago. They put off until it’s too late to get an early voting location, and I think that in a way speaks for their intentions… They are going to wait until it’s too late, until early voting ends, and then they are going to talk to us. I think it’s better than not talking to us at all, but I wish that it could have been a week or two earlier.”
In an effort to give students a chance to vote early, UWGB’s Student Government Association will be giving students a free ride to the clerk’s office at 2 p.m. on Friday so they can cast their ballot.
Friday, Nov.4, is the last day for Wisconsin residents to absentee vote.