February 9, 2016

Ending same day registration could result in lawsuits

If lawmakers move ahead with a plan to get rid of Wisconsin’s Election Day registration law, it could leave several state agencies vulnerable to lawsuits.

Wisconsin’s same day registration provision exempts the state from the federal Motor Voter Act, which requires state agencies providing public benefits to also register voters. If lawmakers move ahead with a plan to get rid of the practice, those agencies would have to quickly comply with the law and face oversight from the federal government. Government Accountability Board attorney Mike Haas says that also means the federal government and private citizens could file lawsuits against state agencies, if they feel voter registration services are not being properly offered.

Agencies that would be required to register voters include the Department of Transportation, Department of Workforce Development, Department of Health Services, and Department of Children and Families. GAB Director Kevin Kennedy says staff would work with those agencies to help them comply. However, he notes that registering voters is not the first priority of those entities. Kennedy says similar circumstances have resulted in more federal oversight in other states.

Some Republican lawmakers say they still plan to introduce a bill next session to overturn Wisconsin’s over 35-year-old same day registration law. The GAB says the change could cost the agency at least $5.2 million, along with additional costs for agencies that will have to create voter registration systems.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:05)

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