Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What voting in Wisconsin means for college students and their parents

We have already established that non-resident students living in university residence halls in Wisconsin cannot legally register and vote in Wisconsin. This does not contradict the wording of Section 6.10, Elector Residence, of the Wisconsin Statutes.
(4) The residence of an unmarried person sleeping in one ward and boarding in another is the place where the person sleeps. The residence of an unmarried person in a transient vocation, a teacher or a student who boards at different places for part of the week, month or year, if one of the places is the residence of the person’s parents, is the place of the parents’ residence unless through registration or similar act the person elects to establish a residence elsewhere.
For voter registration purposes, Paragraph 6.10 (a) requires that a Wisconsin residence must be “the place where the person’s habitation is fixed, without any present intent to move.” Because UW dorm contracts are for only nine months of any year, they cannot honestly be elected as a student’s permanent Wisconsin residence.

NB – I received feedback on my previous post from a law professor. He said that while voting by these students is illegal, it is not fraud unless they were aware of the requirements for residency when they register or vote.
Students: If you have read this far, you are now aware of the residency requirements for voting in Wisconsin. You will be committing fraud if you are a dorm occupant and elect to register and vote at your temporary college address.

Other requirements of Wisconsin residency

Notwithstanding the above discussion, when a student elects to register and vote at his or her college address, the clock begins on several other obligations for Wisconsin residents. Michael Krauss notes several of these possible ramifications in this NRO piece.
But even if an honest student has suddenly acquired the intention of residing indefinitely in his college town, does he understand the legal implications of a residence change? Where is the student filing her income-tax return (will she be liable for another state’s tax)? Is the student claimed as a dependent on her parents’ return (if so, it is hard to have a separate legal residence)? Does the student have a residence-dependent scholarship (some require that recipients reside in a particular town or state) that might be imperiled by a change of residence? Would the student’s automobile or health-insurance coverage be affected by a change in residence, especially if the student is covered by her parents’ policy?
Here is a look at some of the these implications for students registering to vote in Wisconsin.


A student declaring herself or himself a Wisconsin resident will need to address two changes in their tax status. First, they are required to follow Wisconsin law for filing income tax return as a full-year Wisconsin resident. Second, and with more dramatic ramifications, they can no longer be claimed as a dependent on their parents’ tax returns.

Filing of Wisconsin full-year resident taxes will probably be inconsequential to most students. The tax rates for low income individuals in Wisconsin are so minuscule that many students will see little change in Wisconsin taxes versus their previous state of residence. They may even be exempt from filing a Wisconsin return.

However, the parents of these students need to be aware that the IRS has a test for determining if a child may be claimed as a dependent. The IRS Tax Tutorial for evaluating the dependent status of a child includes this residency test which must be satisfied.
Residency Test — Qualifying Child
To meet this test, the child must:

Have lived with you for more than half of the year or
Meet one of the exemptions listed below:
  • Temporary absences — illness, education, business, vacation, or military service
  • Death or birth of child — a child who was born or died during the year
Once a student establishes their primary residence at a location away from their parent’s home in order to vote, the IRS does not allow the parent to legally claim their child as a dependent on their tax return. This is true for both resident and non-resident students attending college in Wisconsin.

With a statewide database of registered voters, it would be simple for the IRS to begin checking claimed dependents against the established residence of these individuals.

Health insurance

Dependent status for tax and health insurance purposes goes hand-in-hand. If a student cannot pass the IRS residency test, their parents cannot claim them as a dependent for health insurance without committing insurance fraud. The student will need to purchase their own health insurance policy.

That vote for in Wisconsin hope and change is starting to get expensive, isn’t it?

Driver and vehicle registration

Registering to vote in Wisconsin starts the clock ticking on other requirements. Upon registering to vote, these students have 60 days to obtain a Wisconsin driver's license.
Other drivers new to Wisconsin are required to apply for a Wisconsin driver license within 60 days of establishing residency.
Things are less lenient for registering your vehicle in Wisconsin.
First things first:
When you become a Wisconsin resident, you must obtain Wisconsin registration (license plates) for your vehicle within two days of moving here. We cannot give credit for unused registration on your previous state’s license plate.
Similarly, your automobile insurance will need to be amended to correctly reflect your Wisconsin address. A change in insurance rates will probably occur with that change of address. Please check with your friendly insurance agent to determine time limits for reporting your address change.


Although there is no coordinated effort to enforce these other obligations of residence that are required upon registering to vote in Wisconsin, with the online voter registration database it would be simple enough to check. It is in Wisconsin’s best interests to enforce requirements for income taxation, driver and vehicle registration as a means to increase revenues to the State Treasury.

Health and automobile insurers have an interest in identifying students who are no longer qualified to be covered by their parents' coverage. Proof of residency could include a check of the voter database as a telltale for refusing coverage of these college age children.


Dad29 said...

There's a post which is nicely detailed, readable, and completely irrelevant to governance in Wisconsin.

BTW, I take my kids off "dependent" status as soon as they go to college. Better tax rate for them (not for me...)

And finally, if the little darlings are renting a flea-infested rat-trap coldwater walkup, they're eligible for the (refundable) homestead credit, assuming they earned typical student money during the year.

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