4Qs: Kaylee Otterbacher Gets Students to the Polls

If you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year. For students living away from home, navigating the web of ever-changing voter ID laws and registration rules can be a difficult and confusing process. Luckily, student governments often take on the role of local voter concierge, helping students navigate their way to the voting booth. We caught up with Kaylee Otterbacher, student body president at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, who talked to us about how voter registration on her campus has evolved as Wisconsin is moving towards online registration.

Kaylee Otterbacher

Student Body President

Campus: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse

Major: Political Science & Government

Student Population: 10,074

How have the changed the work you do on voter registration on campus?

This is our first year implementing the voter ID law, and though online registration is still in the works, it has passed both chambers, so it will probably become a law [pending signature from Gov. Walker]. Online registration is great, but the bad part about that piece of policy is that it got rid of special registration deputies.  So in Wisconsin, we have what we call SRDs, “special registration deputies,” like me, who can go around and register voters as they please. And so what’s going to change with the online system is that our out-of-state students are going to have a little more trouble registering. They’ll have to head to the clerk’s office, fill out the form themselves, send it in online, and so that makes this more difficult for us, because we’re asking students now not only to vote, but to take all these different new steps.

How did you educate yourself on voter registration, and what did you do to prepare for this role?

The city clerk, that’s who runs our elections in Wisconsin, that’s who’s going to be your best resource. I’m really close with our city clerk, she responds to emails in like two seconds, and so that was really helpful. But I’ve also been working on this for two years. This information is often available online. I was in a meeting once, and I was supposed to be paying attention, but instead I was on all these different websites and got all the information. You need to make sure that you’re right. In the last primary election we had, the woman assigned to help us actually gave us wrong information about showing student IDs at the polls, and so I piped up and said that students don’t have to. If one student heard this wrong information and didn’t have their student ID and, they would have just not voted.

How have students been responding? Has it been successful so far?

We’ve been registering students for a couple days now, the first day we only got about twenty-five, which is like none. Then the second day, after we sent out an email blast, we had over one hundred people come, and even more people who pledge to come back later once they had their ID and everything they needed. I’m excited to see how many people come out. This is an election I don’t think we’ll need to run a lot of get out the vote efforts, we just have to be there as a resource. A lot of students are very excited to vote, we just have to make sure we’re there to help them.

What is your advice for other student body presidents trying to start get out the vote (GOTV) efforts on campus.

  • If you can, become deputized to register voters. Sign up as many people as possible. This way, they can register people in class, on the mall on campus, in student organizations, everywhere. They’re involved in all these things that can really move the effort along and put them in a position to register more people.
  • Know exactly what you’re talking about. “The only thing worse than giving someone no information is giving them the wrong information.” Become an expert, and make sure your team is trained up on all the correct information.

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