Republicans Sneaking Bill on Same Day Registration?
Voters would probably oppose it, so GOP needs to pass the legislation very, very quietly.
On November 16, Gov. Scott Walker gave a speech at the Reagan Presidential Library in California where he announced that he favored eliminating same-day registration for voters in Wisconsin. If it seemed odd that he would announce this not in Wisconsin but in California, the situation soon grew even more curious.
When asked for more explanation about this proposal, Walker’s spokesperson Cullen Werwie said there was nothing to add. And incoming Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos seemed to dismiss the whole thing, saying he didn’t know of anyone planning to introduce such legislation.
Nope, Vos had no idea that Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and state Sen Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) would soon be proposing just such a bill and sending an email seeking co-sponsors, which they did last week. But they were remarkably uninterested in promoting the legislation and seemed to be ducking calls from the media. Neither legislator responded to my request for comments. And neither legislator has a word about the bill on their websites.
But Walker later conceded that, actually, he would support the ban, but he didn’t think it required immediate attention. Darling, through a spokesperson, also conceded her support for a bill she was, after all, cosponsoring, but it was apparently very lukewarm advocacy that would be applied only after she worked on more important state issues.
So if it’s such a distraction, such a non-priority, so piffling it’s likely to be delayed, why is it the first piece of legislation proposed by Republicans for the next session? Methinks they don’t want attention to their top priority and are hoping to quietly pass this bill, because voters are unlikely to support it.
Wisconsin has had same-day registration since 1976 and it has been a popular option for voters ever since. In 2008 about 460,000 people, or more than 15 percent of voters in the state, used election-day registration. Figures are not yet available for 2012, but the number is likely to be even higher. Walker’s college-age son Matt D. Walker was among those who registered on election day for the August primary.
The worry for Republicans is that same-day registration is as popular here as in Maine, which instituted it in 1973, only to see it repealed by a majority of Republican legislators in June, 2011. In response, a petition drive was organized in that state and gained enough signatures to call for a referendum on the issue in the November, 2011 election. The restoration of same-day registration was approved by a resounding 61 percent vote and is once again the law in Maine.
Walker and the Republicans have had trouble offering a rationale for eliminating same-day registration. The problem, Walker explained in California, is that our “wonderful poll workers” are mostly retirees “who work 13-hour days” and “it’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute.”
But Walker and Republican legislators haven’t been able to offer the name of one poll worker who has found it problematic. In fact, nearly a dozen poll workers interviewed by the Huffington Post said it caused no problems and should not be eliminated.
“The whole idea that this is somehow a burden on poll workers is just not true, and I can guarantee you it’s not the perception of the vast majority of the people who work at the polls,” said Ruth Irvings, a poll worker in Milwaukee.
“That’s utter bullshit,” said Kevin Rusch, a Wausau poll worker, about Walker’s claims.
Walker also suggested same-day registration leads to problems, but did not offer any examples to reporters. Kleefisch has said same-day registration leads to voter fraud, but also offered no examples where this occurred.
The Republicans solution to this alleged fraud was supposed to be photo ID. The fact that they have switched to ending same-day registration, which is much less popular with voters, suggests they fear the courts will not uphold photo ID.
But ending same-day registration will create major problems, experts who oversee Wisconsin’s elections agree. Vikki Zuehlke, president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association, and a clerk in Waterford, opposes the change, and agreed with Sun Prairie City Clerk Dianne Hermann-Brown, former president of the group, who called it “a logistical nightmare.”
She noted that ending same-day registration would force Wisconsin to submit to a number of federal mandates aimed at increasing ballot accessibility. The state would be required to offer voter registration through the Division of Motor Vehicles, which would lead to inexperienced state officials handling voting rights. It would mean “thousands of people streaming into clerks’ offices in the weeks preceding an election, which would mean more overtime, more overworked clerks and more taxpayer dollars spent,” the Cap Times wrote, summarizing Hermann-Brown’s views.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board, who has overseen state elections for decades, has called the elimination of same-day registration a “financially foolhardy step” that will cause a “bureaucratic morass” by forcing state DMV and social welfare workers into voting registrars.
The number of mistakes “goes up dramatically when you have people doing that registration who are not used to doing it,” Dane County Clerk-Elect Scott McDonnell has predicted.
Moreover, Kennedy has noted, under federal law voters who want to register on election day must be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. The result won’t make election day easier, he predicts, but will be “an equally, if not more, time-consuming process,” as all those provisional ballots must be processed. In a state where up to 15 percent of voters now use same-day registration, its demise would mean that provisional ballots would “skyrocket,” Kennedy predicts.
Normally, when the legislature considers a bill, it brings in experts to testify on its impact. Given that all the experts on elections in Wisconsin see many problems with ending same-day registration, you can be sure the Republicans who run the legislature won’t allow their testimony. They will continue to deny this bill is of much interest to them, and then will quickly — and quietly — pass the bill in January. And then will hope the citizens don’t arise to protest this, as they did in Maine.
-Just after this column was published the Government Accountability Board released a study showing elimination of same-day registration would cost the state $5.2 million and would add new tasks for municipal clerks that would require “additional time, attention, and resources.”
-In the wake of the New York Times story showing Wisconsin is a leader in giving handouts to business, the Journal Sentinel Sunday Crossroads section offered dueling op eds on the subject. The defense came from business leaders Tim Sheehy and Gale Klappa, who note that the Milwaukee 7 “has competed for and successfully won more than 33 expansion/attraction projects affecting 8,000 jobs.” In how many of those cases was a government handout offered or needed? They didn’t say.