BELOIT, Wis. — Emotions ran high at the polls here on Election Day, as Republican lawyers from Washington and Democratic lawyers from the Chicago area made their presence felt at the polling place for Ward 15, where Beloit College students registered and cast their votes.

The Republican legal team challenged several Beloit students at the registration table, saying that a college ID alone was insufficient proof of residency.

Wisconsin law, unlike many states, allows voters to register on the day of elections, as long as they provide proof of identity and residence. For example, unregistered voters can bring a driver’s license or other picture ID and a piece of mail with their current address to register.

The Beloit College ID has the name of the college, the student’s picture, mailbox number and student identification number, but not the address of the college, and so cannot be a legal proof of residency.

Beloit students were outraged at being challenged at the registration tables and the team of Democratic lawyers, as well as volunteers from Beloit College’s League of Pissed-Off Voters, the Beloit College Democrats, and the Victory Wisconsin 2004 office swung into action to ensure that all students would be able to register to vote.

Student volunteers at the polls, like senior Seth Ballhorn, verified residency for the unregistered students. Wisconsin law allows a registered voter to vouch for the residency of an unregistered voter in lieu of other documentation. Ballhorn said that the challenging of student registration was unprecedented in his experience.

John Burris, Beloit College president, gathered appropriate documentation for the contested students. “[Beloit College Registrar] Mary Boros-Kazai ran a list of all the students with all their local addresses and certified it and dated it as of Nov. 2 and that clarified the problem,” Burris said.

Hillary Schwab, an assistant state attorney general, was at the Ward 15 polls at the time of the challenges and she ruled that the certified list of students was adequate.

Burris explained his quick actions to ensure the rights of Beloit students. “The one thing that I really want to make certain is that we don’t discourage the next generation of voters from voting.”

Burris was also concerned that Beloit students were being targeted on the basis of the college’s very liberal and Democratic reputation. “The thing that was frustrating obviously was that this was being done only in Ward 15 where the students were voting and it was on a technicality,” Burris said.

Ballhorn gave credit to Beloit students for their tenacity. “[The Republican lawyer] slowed down voting, but didn’t stop people from voting. If anything, it pissed people off and got them to vote,” Ballhorn said. “I think the fact that students were willing to stand in line for two hours, and skip classes, shows how committed students are and that this is one of the most important elections of our lifetime.”

President Burris applauded the students who registered and voted in the face of legal challenges. “The students have done an amazing job. It was wonderful to see the turnout. The students are the heroes in terms of their willingness to make the effort to vote.”

— Excerpted from the Beloit College Roundtable and reprinted by permission of the author, who can be reached at pww@pww.org.

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