Posted by Brendan Fischer on November 26, 2012

As the final votes are tallied, it is becoming clear that Barack Obama won reelection November 6, 2012, with a higher popular vote than Ronald Reagan enjoyed in 1980, thanks in part to near-record turnout from young people and people of color. High voter turnout is celebrated in some quarters as a sign of a vibrant democracy, but among Wisconsin's GOP leadership, the state's consistently high voter participation rate is apparently viewed as a "problem" that needs fixing.

With Wisconsin's voter ID law blocked by two judges as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, Governor Scott Walker appeared before a sold-out crowd at the Ronald Reagan Library in Los Angeles on November 19, just weeks after his state reelected President Obama and elected Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, and announced his plan to end Wisconsin's 40-year-old same-day registration law. "States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems," he explained to the crowd.

Same Day Registration Helps Voter Turnout

Those "problems" appear to include high voting rates. Nine states, including Wisconsin, allow voters to register on election day, and these states are among those with the highest turnout in the country. According to a study at George Mason University, the top six turnout states in the 2008 election were Minnesota (where 77.7 percent of all eligible voters cast a ballot), Wisconsin (72.1 percent), New Hampshire (71.1 percent), Maine (70.9 percent), Colorado (70.2 percent) and Iowa (69.7 percent). All but Colorado had election-day registration.

Students, people of color, and the poor are most likely to register on election day -- largely because they are more likely to have moved since the last time they voted -- and would be most affected by eliminating the same-day registration law. Those populations tend to vote for Democrats. In 2008, fifteen percent of all Wisconsin voters (approximately 460,000 people) registered on election day. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city and the state's highest concentration of people of color, 48,000 voters took advantage of same-day registration, helping boost turnout in that city to 87 percent. Wisconsinite and Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan blamed GOP losses on "surprise" turnout "in urban areas."

The same populations most affected by ending same day registration would have been disproportionately impacted by the state's voter ID law. As many as 300,000 people in the state do not have the forms of ID required under the law and would have a difficult time getting one. The law was purportedly designed to curb "voter fraud," but extensive investigations by Republicans and Democrats have found that voter fraud is not a problem in the state. Two Wisconsin judges have struck down the state's voter ID law as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, particularly because on balance, the costs of disenfranchising 300,000 people would not be outweighed by the "benefits" of stopping a problem that does not exist.

Clerks Oppose Walker's Plan

In the past, GOP leaders, including Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, have also made the preposterous claim that same day registration leads to fraud. Walker has not explicitly cited fraud but has proffered a similarly weak justification for ending same-day registration.

"It'd be much better if registration was done in advance of election day," Walker told the California crowd. "It'd be easier for our clerks to handle that."

Wisconsin's clerks disagree. "It would be a logistical nightmare" to end same-day registration, said Dianne Hermann-Brown, the head of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association election communication committee and a former clerks association president. "It will make it more burdensome."

If Wisconsin ends same-day registration, under federal law it will have to begin offering registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles and social welfare agencies, which Hermann-Brown says will lead to inexperienced state officials handling voting issues. The long-time head of the state election system, Kevin Kennedy, said in early 2011 that opponents of same day registration are "not looking at the bureaucratic morass that's now going to be imposed on state agencies and local election officials by having to comply with pre-election requirements to turn DOT (Department of Transportation) workers and social welfare state employees into voter registrars," or the imposition of new federal reporting requirements on those agencies.

Perhaps most importantly, the change would require voters who are not registered at their current address to cast provisional ballots.

Kennedy said in 2011 that eliminating election-day registration would cause the number of provisional ballots to "skyrocket." In Wisconsin, only 211 provisional ballots were cast in 2008, compared with tens of thousands in states that do not allow same-day registration. In close elections, a high number of provisional ballots means the outcome won't be resolved for weeks, and in many cases a voter who casts a provisional ballot does not have their vote counted because of technical errors.

Latest Effort to Roll Back Progressive Initiatives

In the 1970s, Wisconsin was one of the first states in the nation to allow same day registration, a progressive initiative to expand access to the ballot box and reduce burdens on the right to vote. Judging by a voter turnout that consistently rates among the highest in the nation, the law has worked as intended.

If Walker succeeds in eliminating same day registration, it will be only his latest effort to roll back Wisconsin's pioneering progressive traditions. In 1959, Wisconsin was one of the first states to recognize public employees' collective bargaining rights, which Walker famously eliminated in 2011.

 

Correction: Relying on data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, this article initially stated that Wisconsin enacted same day registration in 1971, but according to the Government Accountability Board, the law was passed in 1975.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Comments

I still am baffled that Wisconsin voters were tricked into voting for the most corrupt politician our state has ever known. He's done all he can to "Divide and Conquer" his constituents. And now his latest ploy to suppress the democratic voice of the poor and those of color - his 47%. People like Walker don't know how difficult it can be for a poor person, who does not have an available form of transportation, to have to make a special trip to register. It's another of his solutions looking for a problem. The only problem I see is the fact that the fair-minded voters of the great State of Wisconsin were hood-winked into voting for an uneducated, corrupt, bellicose, fame-hungry goofball for governor.

im from europe and i read this kind of stuff time and again and wonder how america can even dare say they want democracy etc. in the middle east, or justify invading countries. Its sickening ( this, and the hypocrisy). Teh Republican party, to people outside the US, seems like the most corrupt organisation on the planet. America is kllling itself.

Don't kid yourself, Amazed...both parties are just as corrupt. You need to find an unbiased view/website to gather your information and good luck with that. Read about George Soros or Acorn, to get an idea of Dem shenanigans. Or go to Rootstrikers website, an unbiased website about lobbying. Men (women) are men and no matter where you are you will find corruption.

Aside from that, as a peon in this country I find that people registering to vote prior to the election should be a rule. It's ridiculous to think that a bunch of people can just show up and register 'on' the day. My daughter voted for the first time this year and I made sure she went through the proper registration procedures weeks prior to the election. If someone has just moved and not changed their license nor gotten any mail with their current address how can they even prove that they are eligible to vote. These are the usual requirements where I live.

In the long run does it even matter if we vote??? The electoral college ultimately votes the president in... Herein lies the apathy among many citizens.

Amazed, most of the people I know (both party types) here in America don't want to invade ANY countries, we want peace for all and would hope that whomever those people are would find it themselves. We hear just as much 'sickening' stuff going on in Europe and the Middle East - life is hard for all of us.

If you're sincere about not wanting to invade other countries, you should call for voting to be easier, not harder, for everyone.

What your post adds up to is that, since it doesn't really matter in the long run whether we vote or not, it's okay to make it harder to vote. But it gets clearer and clearer with every election cycle that suppressing the vote favors the warmongers and the moneygrubbers. Saving our democracy demands making it easier to vote, not harder.

I don't know why you consider following the rules for voter registration 'harder'. Not knowing what the process is makes it seem harder, possibly. My daughter filled out the paperwork (very easy), presented her information (a couple of bills with her address & her drivers ID) to the county and had the Voter ID card within a week. I do not believe in suppressing votes, I just believe that if rules are in place people should follow them.

How about getting to the unregistered voter base two months before the elections? That way they can get the proper information necessary to register. Make it easy for them. Maybe more time should be spent figuring out why people aren't even interested in voting. How do you motivate an apathetic crowd of people to get involved?? I've tried with the folks I know, they feel as though their vote doesn't count, so why bother..that is what I meant with the electoral college comment.

Regardless, this post was about Walker & Voter ID laws, I tend to agree with him on this particular issue. People should follow the rules and be a part of this Great Country.

Dear Sir or Madam:
What you describe are voter registration rules in many states *before* they were made more difficult in an effort to reduce likely Democratic voting populations.
In many states, a person could present their Driver's License or state-issued student ID along with a utility bill or lease to show her identity and residency and be able to vote, but what many of the ALEC-inspired laws do is say that you can no longer do that. You have to present a driver's license with an address in the precinct, not a bill or lease showing you live there but have not yet changed your driver's license (or in the case of students that you have your permanent address at your parents' place though you reside and vote many hours away, where you live). States have required that the ID have an expiration date, even though your identity does not expire and so a Medicare card or federally issued social security card or state issued college ID (which often requires greater verification and tuition money than a Driver's License) does not count. Other states require a birth certificate to get a driver's license but a driver's license to get a birth certificate (a Catch-22).
So, you see, these efforts are about manipulating the rules to make it harder for your fellow citizens to vote and it is about doing so to try to gain a partisan political advantage. And, that's something every citizen ought to be concerned about, as Americans.

Lynn Mallack poses the idea that citizens actually voted for Walker.
All the signs suggest that this is not the case, and that Walker knows it. He could never have won the vote by legal means.

He still has the woman in place who "found" enough votes to topple the Dem. who won a year ago; - the same woman who threatened to destroy all the paper trail if she were forced to allow an impartial recount in November.

What kind of democracy is that? If this occurred in Russia, the outcry in the USA would be deafening.

Ms Mallak also offers that Walker "doesn't know" how difficult it can be for a poor person to register.
I contend he knows exactly how hard it is. That is precisely why he is doing it; he doesn't want any of the dem-leaning groups to vote.

Ms Mallak, I am baffled that you are baffled.
Walker is so easy to read, if you just open the book - and your eyes.

Lynn Mallack poses the idea that citizens actually voted for Walker.
All the signs suggest that this is not the case, and that Walker knows it. He could never have won the vote by legal means.

He still has the woman in place who "found" enough votes to topple the Dem. who won a year ago; - the same woman who threatened to destroy all the paper trail if she were forced to allow an impartial recount in November.

What kind of democracy is that? If this occurred in Russia, the outcry in the USA would be deafening.

Ms Mallak also offers that Walker "doesn't know" how difficult it can be for a poor person to register.
I contend he knows exactly how hard it is. That is precisely why he is doing it; he doesn't want any of the dem-leaning groups to vote.

Ms Mallak, I am baffled that you are baffled.
Walker is so easy to read, if you just open the book - and your eyes.

I am a poll worker in Milwaukee, and have been working the same ward for five years. We have a good crew and we know our jobs, and we handle the chore of same-day registration with efficiency and thoroughness. As with so many other things, Walker is full of crap on this.

The ward in which I work may well be the most heavily Democratic in Gwen Moore's district, which is the most blue district in the state (74% Democratic). Of approximately 2,500 registered voters, in the last five years I have yet to see any Republican candidate take more than 164 votes (most elections it's under 100).

Each election, our same-day registrants total in the hundreds; during the summer recall, one of our heaviest turnouts, the numbers reached over 500 - that's 38 an hour. There is no way that such a volume of applications can be processed by people who are either too overwhelmed or too incompetent to handle the task. The Milwaukee Election Commission will not let us work unless we attend regular training sessions to keep up with changes in procedure and the law.

I heard Walker refer to the typical poll worker as "retired and elderly". What a surprise - he's actually trying to feign compassion for feeble old people (when he has no compassion for anyone). For this past presidential election, yes, some of our workers were retirees, but we also had a group of college students who participating in the election as part of a service program.

Doesn't surprise me that Walker wants to fix voter registration. It seems every country that ever had elections eventually fixed them. It appears that if you cannot beat them, fix the elections.

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