Voting in Wisconsin Under Assembly Bill 7
On Thursday, Secretary of State Doug LaFollette will publish the 2011 Assembly Bill 7, a controversial new law that will have a substantial impact on voting procedures and requirements in Wisconsin. As Wisconsin clerks scramble to put many of the changes in place before the first of the recall elections on July 12, it is important that Wisconsin electors are aware of how the changes will affect them and what they will need to do to preserve their right to vote. This article summarizes what will be required of those wishing to vote in person in upcoming elections and also addresses how the bill may impact groups that are traditionally susceptible to voting requirements.
Voting at the Polls
Beginning in 2012, subject to a few exceptions, registered voters will be required to present unexpired statutory identification containing their name as it is listed on the poll list before being given a ballot. Statutory identification includes:
- Wisconsin Driver’s Licenses
- Department of Transportation issued identification cards
- Military identification cards
- U.S. Passports
- Identification cards issued by federally recognized Indian tribes in Wisconsin
- Identification cards issued by accredited universities or colleges in Wisconsin
For elections occurring before the 2012 Spring Primary, electors will be asked to present identification, but will not be prevented from voting if identification is not presented. Those without a current form of identification should begin the process of obtaining identification as soon as possible as there are various forms and documents needed to complete this process. Those over the age of 18 can obtain an identification card free of charge from the Department of Transportation, however only if they specifically request that they not be charged.
Effective immediately, first time voters will be required to provide proof that they have lived at their current residence for 28 days. If your identification card bears your current address it may be used both as identification and proof of residence. If it does not bear your current address you will need to provide one of the following documents containing your whole name and current address:
- Any official identification card or license issued by a Wisconsin Governmental body or unit.
- Any identification card issued by an employer in the normal course of business (must include a photo, excludes business cards).
- A real estate tax bill or receipt for the current year or the year preceding the date of the election.
- A residential lease effective during the period that includes the election day.
- A university, college, or technical institute fee card (must include a photo).
- A university, college, or technical institute identification card (must include a photo).
- A gas, electric, or telephone service statement for the period commencing no earlier than 90 days before Election Day.
- A bank statement.
- A paycheck.
- A check or other document issued by a unit of the Government.
The new law eliminates the use of corroborating witnesses as proof of residence, so electors will need to remember one of the above-listed documents in order to be eligible to vote.
Elderly and Disabled Voters
The state legislature has determined that the exercise of our constitutional right to vote should be strongly encouraged. In order to allow individuals who are less mobile to exercise this right, the state has established the privilege of absentee voting. Absentee voting allows an elector to vote without making a trip to a polling place and has traditionally been utilized by many elderly and disabled voters.
Beginning in 2012, most absentee voters will be subjected to the same identification requirement as voters at the polling places. In-person absentee voters will be required to present statutory identification before voting and absentee voters returning their ballots by mail will be required to enclose a copy of their identification, except in cases when the elector has received an absentee ballot by mail for a previous election and has provided a copy of his or her identification with that ballot.
The bill provides an exception to the identification requirement for persons living in facilities and homes to which a municipality sends special voting deputies. An elector may substitute a copy of his or her identification with a statement containing his or her name and address which has been verified and signed by one of the deputies. Additionally, residents of qualified facilities to which the municipality does not send special voting deputies may be exempt from the identification requirement. In this case the elector does not need to include a copy of his or her identification and instead may substitute a signed statement by the authorized representative of the facility who witnessed the absentee ballot.
Although the bill provides some exceptions for the elderly and disabled living in certain facilities, it fails to accommodate less mobile individuals living on their own. A person without at-home access to a photocopier will be required to seek one out, or enclose their original identification. Further, elderly persons who no longer drive may not maintain valid identification. Although the Bill provides for free identification if requested, it does not save a less mobile individual a trip to the Department of Transportation to obtain an identification card.
University student voters will also be impacted by the Voter ID law. Student voters will be allowed to use unexpired identification cards issued by their accredited Wisconsin university or college, however, they must contain the date of issuance and signature of the student. The card must also contain an expiration date indicating that the card expires no later than two years after the date of issuance. This presents complications as current University of Wisconsin-Madison identification cards do not contain a student signature, and older UW identification cards have no expiration date. In order for University students to vote in the 2012 election, the University of Wisconsin-Madison will have to update its identification card template and issue new cards to all of its students. If the University does not update its template, students desiring to vote in the election will be required to make a trip to the Department of Transportation to obtain a Wisconsin identification card.
The Wisconsin Voter ID Bill has, and will continue to be, the subject of heated political debate. Although it makes clear accommodations for groups who are traditionally impacted by voter identification laws, many argue that the accommodations are artificial in nature and will not ease the new burdens placed on voters, especially those more susceptible to vote suppression. It remains to be seen whether Bill 7 will significantly impact voter turnout.
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