February 11, 2016

Assembly passes Voter ID changes, limits on absentee voting

Voters who lack a photo ID, because they are either unable to afford one or lack the documentation that’s needed to obtain one, would still be able to vote in Wisconsin elections, under a bill approved Thursday night in the state Assembly. The bill passed on a party line vote, after Democrats spent nearly two hours attacking it as another attempt by majority Republicans to keep traditionally Democratic voters from showing up at the polls on Election Day.

State Representative Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) argued the bill essentially creates a second class of voter, because those who lack an ID would have to sign a document stating why they are unable to obtain one. “We are creating some people who are going to have the absolute right to walk into that poll and vote, and then we’re going to have a number of people who are going to sign affidavits, swear the truthfulness of what they’re doing, before they’re given their right to vote,” Kessler said.

State Representative Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) referred to the bill as a form of “poverty shaming,” because people will have to state in public that they cannot afford to purchase a photo ID that’s valid for voting.

Republicans said the change is needed to prevent voter fraud from taking place at polling places, a claim Democrats argued there’s little evidence to support. State Representative Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) said “you know as well as we do, voter fraud is not rampant in Wisconsin…there may be a few cases here and there, but not enough to call for this kind of outrageous legislation.” State Representative Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), the sponsor of the bill, countered that even one instance of voter fraud is too many to allow.

Wisconsin adopted a voter identification law in 2011, but it has been on hold since 2012 after it was ruled unconstitutional by a Dane County judge. A federal trial against the law is currently underway, and other cases are still pending. State Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has indicated his chamber will not act on the Assembly bill until the court challenges have been resolved.

The Assembly on Thursday also passed legislation that would limit in-person absentee voting hours at local clerks’ offices across the state. The practice drew record turnout during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, bringing out many voters during evening and weekend hours for weeks before the general election. Under the bill, those hours would be limited to between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and would not allow them on weekends. Democrats characterized the bill as another “voter suppression” effort from the GOP, while Republicans contend it’s meant to bring statewide uniformity to the absentee voting process.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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