In a continuing effort to give themselves a partisan advantage in elections, the Wisconsin GOP held a public hearing today on three bills that would open Wisconsin elections to unlimited secret money in political campaigns, cripple ethics and election law enforcement and, once again, make it harder for many people to vote.
Two of the bills were unveiled in a press conference October 7, and were reported on by CMD, but a new on-line voting bill sprung on the public Friday would impede voter registration by putting an end to voter drives by nonpartisan, good government groups like the League of Women Voters.
An Online Voter Registration Bill Makes it Harder to Vote?
Twenty-five states have electronic voting and the notion was conceived to make it easier for people to register and vote.
But not the way that the Wisconsin GOP has designed it.
The Elections Technology Act (AB 389) would bring online voter registration to the state, but it would also limit Special Registration Deputies (SRDs) who register individuals in care facilities such as nursing homes and engage in voter drives across the state. The rationale is that online registration makes the SRDs unnecessary, but the bill also requires a drivers license or state ID in order to register to vote on-line and data shows that many voters do not have this type of ID.
Kathleen Fullin of the League of Women Voters explained in her written testimony that the provisions to eliminate the SRDs "would reduce voter registration and therefore reduce voting by senior citizens, people with disabilities, minorities and residents who move to our state within a few months of the election."
The League and other volunteer groups would no longer be able to go to nursing homes, farmers' markets, or workplaces to register people to vote.
Colleen Gruszynski, of Wisconsin Voices, told CMD that the bill would also harm campus voter registration drives. "With regard to campus voter registration drives, volunteers used to be able to look at proof of residency and register someone to vote. Under the bill we would to make copies of the proof of residence and send it in. Obviously if we are in the student union or out on the street we don't have copiers with us."
In 2008, 25,000 people were registered by SRDs in Madison alone. In 2012, 20,000 were registered. This appears to be the problem that the bill is addressing.
On the micro level and on the macro level, citizens and election experts expressed concerns about the bills speeding through the legislature.
Linea Sundstrom shared a personal story that highlights the value of SRDs: "I am an SRD that has helped hundreds to register to vote. I once was asked to come to the home of a bright, courteous, pleasant young man, just home from high school, who also happened to be a quadriplegic. He had no WI ID or drivers license, so under this law he cannot register online and the clerk cannot make at home visits. Tell me how would he register to vote under this bill? How will this person become an active voter when you are throwing these hurdles in his path?" The problems posed by the bill for people with disabilities was also highlighted by WI Board of People with Developmental Disabilities.
Experienced City of Beloit Clerk Lori Stottler was worried about the combined impact of the bill to restructure the Government Accountability Board and the bill to create online voter registration. "I was asked by my boss how this bill would affect our voters in Beloit. Unfortunately I can't answer him and I can only speculate because of the speed and size of this bill being rushed along. I can only tell him that we've enjoyed a lot of progress in eight years under the leadership of the GAB elections staff. I can only tell him that time and time again, the laws and regulations for recounts and recalls and challenging electors and observers and enforcing rules and regulations including the investigation of fraudulent voting … GAB has prevailed with their dignity and reputation intact."
Stottler was worried that of the 1851 municipal clerks and 72 were not consulted about taking on these changes heading into a major election cycle. "The timing of this bill could not be worse going into 2016," she said. Her written testimony made the plea: "Do not try to fix what is not broken. Let WI shine in 2016 and show the rest of the country what we already know that WI is a wonderful state with the nation's 3rd highest level of voter turnout and that elections officials here run honest, fair and transparent elections."
One frustrated citizen reminded the politicians: "There is a term for breaking things that are not broken -- it is called wreaking havoc."
"Rigging the Rules"
Since being sworn into office, Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP have ushered into law one of the strictest "voter ID" requirements in the nation, even worse than the original American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) "model" bill. Although voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the state, experts say that some 300,000 people, including minorities, the elderly, and the low-income lack the form of ID required to vote under the new law.
The Voter ID law was written so that no college ID in the state qualified. For instance, one requirement is that the college ID only be issued for 2 years, when most campuses want the ID to be usable for 4 years. A few campuses have moved to make their college ID system compliant, but others have not.
This implementation of Voter ID has been held up by legal challenges, but this disenfranchisement will be felt in the presidential election November 2016. A plethora of other Wisconsin voter restrictions including limits on early voting is currently being challenged in court.
One voter advocate at today's hearing summed up the cascading voter restrictions bluntly: "the rules matter and they are rigging the rules."