Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Nov. 3 election is less than a month away. Lawrentians, are you ready for this?

The 2020 presidential campaign is unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times, coming as it is in the midst of an unrelenting global pandemic that has altered life as we know it, ongoing calls for racial justice and systematic change, and a divisiveness that has overshadowed any rational political conversation.

“The nature of our electoral culture is changing before our eyes,” said Jerald Podair, Lawrence University’s Robert S. French Professor of American Studies and professor of history, pointing to an “unprecedented level of polarization, vitriol, and incivility.”

The presidential race garners most of the attention, but key Congressional seats and statewide races are in play as well across the country.

We’ve pulled together a quick guide for Lawrentians as we make our way from here to Nov. 3.

1. First things first, register to vote

For most Lawrence students, this will be the first presidential election in which they can vote. To do so, they first need to get registered.

Lawrence is trying to make that process as seamless as possible for students living on campus. Lawrence voter ID cards are available free of charge in the Warch Campus Center and the University has already provided a certified housing list to the Appleton city clerk’s office. A voter registration table is set up in Warch from now through Oct. 13, allowing students to get their voter ID card and fill out a voter registration form all at the same time. Those forms will then be collected and delivered to the city clerk’s office. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Students who are Wisconsin residents but not living on campus this term will need to go an alternate route. And students studying from their homes outside of Wisconsin will need to consult their local municipal clerk’s office for details on their voter registration options.

Information on voter registration in Wisconsin, including a registration form, can be found at https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/. If you can’t register at Warch, these are your options:

Register in person at city clerk’s office: It’s located in City Hall, on the west end of City Centre. The office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Deadline is Oct. 30. You’ll need your voter ID card. 

Register at the polls on Nov. 3: You’ll need proof of residence as well as your photo ID. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Register by mail: You can send your completed and signed registration form along with proof of residence to the Appleton city clerk’s office, 100 N. Appleton Street, Appleton WI 54911, as long as it is postmarked by Oct. 14.

Register online: Go to https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/. Deadline is Oct. 14.

More information about voting in Appleton can be found here.

If you registered to vote in a previous year, you’re encouraged to check your registration status at https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/. If you’ve changed residence halls on campus since spring, you need to re-register. And when registering to vote, you will need to know the physical address of your campus housing. You can find campus addresses here.

2. Ready, set … vote

Once you’re registered, you’re ready to vote. You can vote by mail, you can drop your early ballot at a designated drop-off site, or you can vote at the polls on Election Day. Here are some things to keep in mind.

In Wisconsin, you must reside at your selected voting address for at least 28 days before the election.

Wisconsin law requires a voter ID on Election Day. Acceptable IDs include a Wisconsin driver’s license, U.S. passport, a military ID, or one of the Lawrence voter ID cards that are now available to students in Warch. The voter ID card will be valid for two years.

If you plan to vote at the polls on Election Day and you’re living on campus, the polling location is at Memorial Presbyterian Church, 803 E. College Ave.

If you want to vote early, you need to request a mail-in ballot. You can do that when registering. Because of the volume of requests this year, it’s best to do that as early as possible.

Most municipalities are setting up drop-off sites for completed ballots if you don’t want to send it via the mail. In Appleton, drop-off boxes are in place at City Hall and at each of the city’s fire stations. Be sure to sign your early ballot and get a witness signature.

Remember, voting is the right thing to do. It’s also going to feel really good.

“At a time when one’s sense of community may feel diminished, participating in a collective and civic action like voting provides the opportunity to engage with and shape how our community moves forward,” Dean of Students Curt Lauderdale said in a recent message to students. “All Lawrentians who are eligible to vote are strongly encouraged to participate in this important form of civic and community engagement.”

3. History is happening

No matter how discouraged you are by the state of today’s political discourse, do not use that as an excuse to opt out. There is little denying we are in a strange and troubled time, the coarseness of political interactions amplified by a pandemic that has cratered much of the economy and put emotions on edge.

We know, it’s exhausting.

But, frustrations aside, there are fascinating developments to watch as Election Day dawns. What we’re living right now will be discussed and analyzed for years to come.

Voter turnout and voter behavior – be it in person, via the mail, or at drop-boxes – will be studied, debated, and perhaps litigated. The trends that emerge could set the course for politics in the United States well into the century’s second quarter and beyond. Let your voice, and your vote, be heard.

4. An electoral college refresher

Every four years, we get reintroduced to the electoral college. The winner of the popular vote isn’t always the winner of the electoral college. It’s happened twice in the past five presidential elections, and it’s among the reasons certain states get “battleground” status, Wisconsin among them this time around. That means lots of attention and lots of campaign money flooding into those states in these weeks leading up to Election Day.

It’s also part of what makes campaign polling both fascinating and frustrating.

“Polls are as much, or more, an art than a science,” said Arnold Shober, professor of government, noting that early voting will make this year even more challenging for pollsters. “It has become harder as exit polls have become less reliable over the last few cycles, and this year exit polls will be virtually non-extant.”

In the electoral college, each state gets a set number of votes based on population. With 538 electoral college votes up for grabs, the magic number is 270. So, think of your vote as a state-level vote, not a national vote. 

5. This could get weird

We may not have a winner declared on the night of the election. Some states will accept mail-in ballots up to a week after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

So, what should we be watching as all that plays out? Plenty, Podair said.

“If the Republicans are to win, either nationally or in state races, they need to win on Election Day proper since so many of their supporters plan to vote in person,” he said. “If the GOP does not come out of Nov. 3 with substantial leads, it will be at the mercy of mail-in votes, including the ‘harvested’ votes so dear to political activists, that will surely favor the Democrats.”

The rhetoric surrounding how those votes are coming in also will be in play.

“There is a high likelihood that some election returns will descend into litigation,” Shober said.

Litigation or not, the way we vote, Podair said, may never go back to the way it was even after the pandemic is gone.

“Watch how voting by mail plays out across the country,” Podair said. “Will there be delays? Fraud? Chaos? For better or worse, there will be no going back; mail voting is our future. In a decade, in-person voting will be considered as outmoded as manual typewriters.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu