Wisconsin Assembly passes voter ID bill

By Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond
Madison, Wisconsin (AP) May 2011

The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, a longtime priority of Republicans who finally have the power to enact the law this year.

The Assembly passed the bill 60-35, despite objections from Democrats who argued the new photo ID requirement, along with other changes affecting voter registration and qualifications to vote, will create chaos and confusion at the polls.

The bill’s main author, Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said the bill is designed to protect election integrity.

“We have a system that is so open to abuse,” Stone said. “We owe it to the people of the state to build a better system.”

Democrats maintained widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin is a myth. They argued Republicans really want to disenfranchise voters who are likely to oppose them, such as college students and poor people.

“Is this the right thing to be doing?” said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. “Look inside your hearts. Don’t take away the rights of people to vote for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The measure now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it could pass as soon as next week. Republican Gov. Scott Walker is also a supporter.

The bill underwent a series of changes before the Assembly vote.

One addition allows students to use college IDs. At one point, the bill would have required the student’s address and date of birth to be on the cards. Those requirements were taken off after security concerns were raised by UW-Madison, because the cards also provide access to residence halls. Under the version passed last week, the ID cards must include the student’s signature and expiration date no farther out than two years after the card was issued.

University of Wisconsin IDs currently do not meet that criteria, meaning they would have to be redone to be used by students to vote.

The cost of doing that, along with a public education campaign about the new requirement, was estimated to be about $7 million. Money to pay for it will have to be included in Walker’s two-year budget, which remains in committee.

Voters will be asked to show photo identification at elections this year, but they will be allowed to vote without it. Starting next year, a photo ID will be mandatory.

Other acceptable IDs allowed under the bill include a driver’s license, state IDs, military IDs, passports, naturalization papers or tribal IDs.

One significant new requirement would start immediately and be in place for any recall elections that may happen this summer. The bill requires voters to have lived at their current address for 28 days, instead of 10, before an election.

If they don’t meet that requirement, the voter could still vote from their old address.

However, it could affect college students who have recently moved on campus in any part of the state affected by the recall. Nine senators – six Republicans and three Democrats – are facing potential recalls, the soonest of which could happen on July 12.

Wisconsin would join only eight other states that require photo ID at the polls. A new Kansas law takes effect in January. An additional 18 states require identification, but not necessarily with a photo. Oklahoma will become the 19th state in July.

Debate dragged on for more than six hours as Republicans defeated about 50 Democratic amendments to the bill. They ranged from keeping state Division of Motor Vehicle offices open on weekends so people in rural areas can travel to them to get IDs to allowing voters without IDs to provide affidavits detailing their identity.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, told Democrats to stop wringing their hands.

“The sky’s not going to fall,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re not going to have thousands of people (who won’t be able to vote). You all know we have to show IDs for almost everything.”

A group of protesters watching the debate from the Assembly’s second floor gallery began screaming at the lawmakers moments after the vote. One shouted, “Welcome to Wisconsin, Jim Crow!” The rest started chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as police started escorting them out.