new in-person absentee voting location

At tonight’s city council meeting we voted unanimously to allow residents to submit in-person absentee ballots at St. Norbert College. So, let me explain by starting with a little history.

Our city is split into four quadrants, which means four aldermanic districts, which means four polling locations. St. Norbert College is in District 3. Wisconsin state law allows a college student to vote either at the municipality of their college, or back home. So here in De Pere, we welcome the college’s 2,100 students to vote at the District 3 polling location.

De Pere, WI District 3 Polling LocationA number of years ago, before I was on the council, there was an effort to establish a 5th polling location in the city, on the college campus. I was totally against it. The idea was sold as making it more convenient for students, thereby increasing voter participation. While that may be true, my feeling has always been that voters of all ages must put some importance on elections and hence make the effort to get to the polls some time between 7am and 8pm.

As for St. Norbert students, the college is on Third St. The polling location is on Sixth St. It’s three blocks! If a student is not willing to walk three blocks to vote, then their priorities are a bit messed up. 

But the idea we voted on tonight was to establish St. Norbert as an additional location to submit in-person absentee ballots. So, here’s how that works. In Wisconsin, we can vote absentee for most any reason. You don’t actually have to be absent. So what this really means is that you don’t have to vote on election day. You can submit your ballot at city hall any time during the two weeks prior to election day (or you can mail it). So now, with tonight’s city council decision, you have the choice of submitting that absentee ballot at city hall or at St. Norbert College.

What this really means is that it’s now going to be much more convenient for SNC students. Here in Wisconsin, we can also register to vote at the polls on election day. So, this means that a student can now visit the Norman Miller Center on campus, register to vote, get an absentee ballot, fill it out and submit it, all in one shot. And yes, any city resident can do this, but I suspect it’ll be used mostly by students.

Note that absentee ballots can be submitted in person during the two weeks PRIOR to election day (during normal business hours), but NOT ON ELECTION DAY. So, St. Norbert is not another polling location. If you wait until election day, then you have to vote at the polls.

So why was I in favor of this? It’s because of the high volume of college students who also register to vote on election day (in addition to actually voting). I worked at the poll here in District 3 yesterday (it was a primary election). And the poll workers told me that their biggest challenge on election day is the large number of college students who register to vote. Registering takes a good chunk of time, causing long lines and frustrated voters. By allowing students to register and vote on campus, we will alleviate the demand on District 3 and reduce stress on all other voters in the district. This will be good for everyone.

We expect to do this for the first time at our spring election on April 7. So watch for more info coming from the city clerk.