Last minute change in Wisconsin election protocol would disenfranchise voters

Last minute change in Wisconsin election protocol would disenfranchise voters

Andrea Kaminski [Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin]: "In suing the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), Attorney General Van Hollen is seeking to overturn a recent GAB decision and change election procedures – just before a presidential election. He wishes to impose an emergency rule dealing with matching the statewide voter registration list with the Department of Transportation database.

The GAB is a nonpartisan board of six retired judges, which was created as the result of a new ethics law which went into effect in 2007. Following the biggest government ethics scandal in state history, which sent a number of former legislators to prison, the GAB was created to replace the bipartisan ethics and election boards, which were often ineffective.

Federal law (HAVA) requires that the database matching be done, and it is being done in Wisconsin on first-time registrations by mail since August 6, 2008. HAVA does not require that people with non-matching data be disqualified from casting a regular ballot on Election Day.

The Attorney General's proposal would result in persons with non-matched data to clear up the "nonmatch" or re-register at the polls, or use provisional ballots on Election Day. People would have to bring proof of identity and residence on Election Day, something regular voters are unaccustomed to providing at the polls in Wisconsin.

Developing the Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) presented a unique challenge in Wisconsin, where our elections are administered largely by local clerks. Of about 9,000 election clerks nationwide, about 2,000 are in Wisconsin. Prior to 2006, voters in the more than 1,400 municipalities with populations less than 5,000 were not required to register to vote.

The SVRS became fully functional on August 6, 2008. The GAB reports that more than 20percent of the new registrations they have cross-checked since that time are turning up as problems. In a test, four of the six GAB members did not pass the HAVA check. These are retired judges who likely have been voting regularly since they came of age.

The League of Women Voters is concerned that the proposed last-minute rule change will result in confusion for voters and election officials alike. Municipal clerks have asked what we would have them do between now and the election: should they be recruiting and training poll workers and sending ballots to electors overseas, or should they be working to resolve the data discrepancies of one out of five registered voters?

Wisconsin's election ecosystem received high marks in a recent comparative study [PDF], because it is fair, clean, open and transparent. The study's authors noted in particular that our system has been set up to not require a lot of costly provisional ballots.

Finally, the rule is unfair. As with other last-minute rules changes and restrictive measures, the burden of this rule would fall disproportionately on the people for whom it would be most difficult to get to the clerk's office, that is, the elderly, disabled, and low-income — all of whom are less likely to have the job flexibility, child care or transportation needed to make a second trip to the poll or clerk's office.

This last-minute rule change would cause long lines and confusion at the polls on a day when a record number of citizens are expected to turn out. It would cause disarray when it comes to counting votes after the election. Worst of all, it would mean that many, many Wisconsin citizens would not be able to cast a vote and have it counted."

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