The Wisconsin State Senate has passed AB-7, the Voter ID bill, and Gov. Scott Walker will sign the legislation next Wednesday. It’s a highly contentious piece of legislation that’s been on and off the table for years – backed almost solely by Republicans. The bill will not only require voters to provide photo identification at the polls, it will change how we all vote across Wisconsin.
Supporters say the legislation is needed to reduce voter fraud. However, a December 2011 Politifact review of fraud claims found the allegation to be false.
Opponents claim the bill will actually disenfranchise thousands of potential voters with its onerous identification provisions, reduction in voting opportunities and confusing requirements.
From now on
The legislation will allow the following IDs for voting: Wisconsin driver’s licenses; state-issued ID cards; military IDs; passports; naturalization certificates; IDs issued by Wisconsin-based tribes; and certain student IDs. The photo ID provisions would go into effect during the 2012 spring elections.
Student IDs need to be issued from accredited public and private colleges and universities in Wisconsin, include the student’s signature and have a two-year expiration date. Students would have to establish they are currently enrolled in the school if using a student ID. A provision to require addresses on student IDs was removed from the bill by the Assembly.
UW-System IDs do not currently meet the legislation’s requirements, and the changeover could cost the system $1.1 million.
And in the future it will take more documents to get a driver’s license and state-issued ID card. In accordance with the Real ID Act of 2005, citizens will have to provide a birth certificate to the Department of Motor Vehicles before obtaining a federal, tamper-proof driver’s license or ID.
That law, authored by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) was in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The bill creates secure IDs that can be used for boarding airplanes or entering federal courthouses. The new restrictions, when put into effect, will extend the time of obtaining an ID card at the DMV from a few hours to 7-10 days. The DMV will provide applicants with a receipt that can be used for driving and voting.
Citizens who do not wish to comply with the federal law can obtain a non-secure license, but could not use it as identification to board planes or enter federal courthouses.
Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) said tying the ID requirement to the Real ID Act will be costly to elderly and poor. “People who have come here from Arkansas and Mississippi may not have a birth certificate, especially if they’re elderly. To get one from those states could take extra time and money.”
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) said the requirement directing the DMV to issue the IDs hurts people of all economic and racial stripes. Not all counties have DMV service centers: Buffalo County has none, Pierce County’s is only open during typical working hours on Thursdays and Fridays and Price County only has hours on the first Wednesday of every other month and 2nd and 5th Thursdays monthly.
People living in nursing homes or hospice would be exempt from the law, as would victims of stalking or those with religious objections to photographs.
Voters who arrive at the polls without a photo ID will be allowed to vote; however their ballots will be considered provisional and could be tossed unless an ID is presented to the municipal clerk by the Friday following the election.
Residency requirements within the bill are expected to be implemented in time for the upcoming summer recall elections of six Republican and three Democratic senators. AB 7 includes a provision that extends the minimum legal residency requirement to 28 days prior to a state election. The current 10-day residency rule would remain in place for presidential elections.
Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) says the extended residency requirement will be difficult for college students, who frequently move throughout the school year. He offered amendments to reverse the lengthening of the residency rule, which all were tabled on straight party-line votes.
Absentee ballots can currently be cast in person before the municipal clerk 30 days prior to an election. The new legislation will reduce the time frame to only two weeks for absentees, and would set the deadline for absentee ballots to the Friday before the election.
AB7 would also require voters to sign a poll book before they can obtain a ballot, which Sen. Lena Taylor said was just another way of disenfranchising voters. The bill would also eliminate party-line voting for all residents, with the exception of military personnel and overseas voters.
The bill will cost the state more than $6 million over the next biennium, due to the loss of revenue of providing free state IDs to avoid the appearance that the bill is an unconstitutional poll tax.
Tension in the Senate
The Democratic Senators began a one-sided debate just before 3 p.m on Tuesday and offered 28 different amendments to restore certain provisions in the bill, including using a third-person to vouch for a voter’s identity, return of the 10-day residency requirement, keeping straight party voting and allowing the use of any college ID, unexpired ID card or hunting and fishing licenses for voting.
Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) said AB7 has nothing to do with voter ID, but with voter suppression.
“It puts obstacles in the way of what has been a very open system,” Miller said.
“We have seen in the past the poll tax,” Miller said. “We have seen the literacy tests, which have been declared unconstitutional. We have seen in the past districts that have been gerrymandered to reduce the representation of minorities. So Mr. President (Senate President Mike Ellis), this bill has numerous provisions and restrictions on people trying to exercise their voting rights.”
“I think it would be hard for any of us to justify to the voters a bill that stands in the way of citizens by making it harder to vote.”
Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) expressed concerns over the restrictions on the elderly, and lent his support to an amendment that would exempt all voters 65 and older from the voter ID requirements, regardless of where they live.
“I don’t think this group is likely to commit voter fraud,” he said. “I would be interested to see evidence of voter fraud at elderly centers and nursing homes. At least not in Milwaukee County, maybe Waukesha County.”
But Sen. Robert Jauch (D-Poplar) went right to the heart of the matter, saying this bill is only being passed to ensure the re-election of Republican politicians, equating the GOP to Soviets putting their boots on the neck of freedom.
“Jim Crow, move over, Wisconsin Republicans have taken your place” Jauch said. “I’m not saying you’re racists. Intolerant, unsympathetic, restrictive; those are a few words. This bill perpetuates injustice and deprives people of their rights.”
Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) said the bill allows for the majority of citizens to regain confidence in the election process which has been tainted by administrative errors and fraudulent voting practices.
“We bring forward a package of reasonable updates and changes that will strengthen the voting process in our state,” Leibham said. “The mainstay of this is a reasonable requirement that an individual who is voting under an identity to prove it with a photo ID. The vast majority of the citizens of Wisconsin have one of the seven IDs we are requiring. I have yet to meet a person who will be disenfranchised by this bill.”
He added that as of May 2011, there are 3.5 million registered voters in the state and as of Jan. 1, there are 4.4 million driver’s licenses or ID cards that have been issued by the DOT.
The Assembly passed the Bill AB7 on May 11 on a 60-35 vote. All of the Republicans voted in favor and were joined by Rep. Peggy Krusick of Southwestern Milwaukee and Rep. Tony Staskunas of West Allis.
After the vote, people in the Assembly gallery and members of the Democratic Caucus shouted “Shame!” and “Welcome to Wisconsin, Jim Crow!”
Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) said this measure is a Republican power grab.
“Republicans know that their days of complete control over Wisconsin’s government are numbered, so they are rushing frantically to game the system to keep power,” Roys said. “They know that according to a 2005 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, about 180,000 Wisconsinites (23 percent) aged 65 and older do not have a state-issued ID, and about half of African-Americans and Latinos/Latinas lack a valid driver’s license – compared with 17 percent of white Wisconsinites. These tactics only serve to further divide our state in ways that may be irreparable.”
But Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) was pleased that Wisconsin will be joining the ranks of other states that require photo ID at the polls. Currently, nine states require or request photo ID at the polls and 19 others require some form of identification when citizens vote.
“I am pleased to see Wisconsin joins so many others across the country in protecting and ensuring the integrity of our election process,” he said. “Free and fair elections are the staple of our democracy and they should be defended at all costs.”