For almost 40 years Wisconsin law has provided for same-day voter registration, a provision which greatly contributes to the state's record of consistently high voter turnout. On November 6, 2012, in Milwaukee alone 54,000 people were registered to vote at the polls. But this Wisconsin tradition unexpectedly came under attack when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker discussed repealing the law at the Ronald Reagan library in California, a forum for Republicans with higher ambitions.
Now, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), the nonpartisan elections and ethics board, has sent a report to lawmakers detailing what would happen if the legislature were to abandon same-day registration. The report concluded that the move would cost a minimum of $5.2 million in the first two years, and there would be additional costs every subsequent year. The $5.2 million only encompasses certain agencies, and does not include the costs that would be incurred by agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOT), which would have to provide voter registrations to everyone that came through their doors. In 2007, DOT estimated that it would cost their agency over $700,000 to implement those changes.
Wisconsin's use of same-day voter registration exempts the state from more complicated and costly procedures otherwise required by the federal Motor Voter Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which require federal agencies offering services to Wisconsinites to also register voters. These costs were not accounted for in the GAB report.
Rep. Robin Vos, the new Republican Assembly Speaker and a state co-chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Rep. Joel Kleefisch, one of the legislators working on the bill, have cited the potential for fraud as their reason for getting rid of same-day voter registration, but have not provided evidence of same-day fraud to back up their claims.
Newspapers reported this week that Governor Walker helped his college-age son vote for the first time. Walker looked on as he registered and then voted at their polling place in Wauwatosa for the August 14 Senate primary. After the release of the GAB report, Governor Walker appeared to walk back his support of tanking the law. "There is no way I'm signing a bill that costs that kind of money," he said. It is doubtful, however, if the bill's authors will abandon their plans.