Posted by Brendan Fischer on February 20, 2013

Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board estimates that ending Wisconsin's highly successful Election Day registration program could cost $14.5 million -- a calculation that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is calling "highly suspect." Republicans in the state are advocating for an end to the practice as part of a partisan national effort to narrow access to the ballot box, and Vos' statement on the cost estimate fits into a pattern of rejecting evidence that doesn't fit a pre-determined narrative on voting practices.

According to a report released Monday from Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (GAB), ending election day registration could cost Wisconsin taxpayers as much as $14.5 million, since federal law would require the state to offer voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles and social welfare agencies. The latest total is more comprehensive than an earlier $5 million calculation, since it includes estimates submitted by Governor Walker's own agencies -- the departments of transportation, workforce development, health services, and children and families -- about how much it would cost to make them voter registrars.

For an unknown reason, Vos isn't buying it.

"I am highly skeptical of the estimate the GAB has given," he said in a statement.

Election Day Registration Contributes to High Turnout

Pew Charitable Trusts recently ranked Wisconsin as one of the highest-performing states in the nation during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, and praised the Dairy State for allowing voters to register at the polls on election day. This practice has helped Wisconsin achieve the second-highest voter turnout rate in the nation.

High voter turnout is typically celebrated as a sign of a vibrant democracy. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker, Speaker Vos, and other members of Wisconsin's GOP leadership have expressed support for ending the practice that is a major contributor to the state's strong voter participation rates. (Walker has recently said he would not support ending election day registration if it cost too much money, but he could sign a bill that costs less -- a number that might be reached by casting doubt on the GAB's estimates).

Vos has not stated why he thinks the estimate from the nonpartisan GAB is "highly suspect." Nor has he provided evidence for why he thinks election day registration invites fraud (a claim also advanced by national vote fraud hucksters like the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky, who has provided little evidence besides anecdotes). But this is not the first time the Assembly Speaker has thrown out statements about election procedures without concerning himself with actual facts.

Who Cares About Facts?

After a Republican State Senator from Racine lost his seat in a June 2012 recall election, Vos made the unsupported claim that, "Unfortunately, a portion of [the votes were] fraud."

In that same June 2012 election, Governor Walker and three Republican senators in other districts survived recall attempts. But Vos made no allegations of fraud in those races and did not question the legitimacy of the GOP victories.

"You have to have some sort of ID in my mind," he added in his statements after the 2012 recall elections. "I think that was another thing that led to the potential for fraud."

Vos spearheaded the effort to pass a strict voter ID requirement in 2011, which was premised on the notion of preventing voter fraud -- but little reliable evidence was presented to support this claim. In fact, extensive investigations by both Republicans and Democrats in Wisconsin have found that election fraud occurs at a rate of less than one-thousandths of a percent. In the 2004 and 2008 elections, only two individuals were charged with committing the kind of in-person "voter fraud" that more restrictive identification requirements might prevent.

Wisconsin's bill reflects key elements of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) "model" Voter ID Act, and Vos is the ALEC chairman for Wisconsin.

It has since been struck down as unconstitutional by two separate courts, in part because the costs of disenfranchising as many as 300,000 state residents -- a finding supported by actual evidence -- were not outweighed by the purported benefits of stopping the statistically insignificant and unsupportable "threat" of voter fraud.

Both the effort to enact a strict voter ID restriction and to end Wisconsin's successful election day registration program fit into a pattern of changes to the state's voting procedures that would arbitrarily impose unnecessary burdens on certain voters, including the elderly, people of color, and students -- all populations that tend to not vote for Republicans.

And Vos' latest refusal to acknowledge the facts about ending election day registration follow a pattern of letting partisan ideology trump reason.

Brendan Fischer

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