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Wisconsin's voter ID bills get little lobby support
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The 2011 voter ID bill passed despite being opposed by more than 30 state lobby groups.
The 2011 voter ID bill passed despite being opposed by more than 30 state lobby groups.
Credit:League of Women Voters

Some Republican state lawmakers upset by a federal judge's ruling (PDF) against Wisconsin's voter ID law are vowing to introduce new legislation.

"We refuse to wait on the sidelines for the courts to rule in a process that could take years, when we can pass a proven voter ID law," wrote (PDF) state Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh). "Election integrity is too important."

Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, say changes are needed to ensure that voter fraud does not occur. Democrats say the real purpose is to turn away poorer voters who lack IDs and lean Democratic.

Wisconsin's law, passed in 2011, would require all voters to present a state-approved photo ID. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman struck it down April 29, saying it would disproportionately impact racial minorities, violating the Voting Rights Act.

Adelman, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said there was virtually no evidence of voter impersonation in Wisconsin. He concluded that since 300,000 eligible voters lack a photo ID, the law would clearly "prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes."

The unequivocal ruling in Frank v. Walker, which the state is appealing, dampened Republican calls to pass some form of voter ID before the fall elections. Born and Schraa's bill would be introduced next year; it would let certain voters cast specially marked ballots after signing an affidavit. A similar bill (AB 493) passed the Assembly last session but died in the Senate.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin opposed this earlier bill, which executive director Andrea Kaminski calls "an effort to do the least possible to make voter ID constitutional." So did Common Cause in Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee.

In fact, no group with a paid lobbyist registered in favor of this bill, which passed the Assembly on a 54-38 party-line vote. This and other voting-related bills seem to defy the popular belief that lobbying drives legislation.

The 2011 voter ID bill (AB 7) passed despite being opposed by more than 30 state lobby groups, from Disability Rights Wisconsin to Milwaukee County to the United Transportation Union. Only two groups -- the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and an engineers union -- were in favor, and they accounted for just 11 of the 1,300 hours of reported lobbying activity.

And no lobby groups backed bills that passed this session to limit absentee voting(SB 324), change the rules for advance voter registration (SB 267), and let election observers stand within three feet of the tables where voters register or check in (AB 202).

"When the proponents of these measures say there's popular support, it's not showing up on the lobbying reports," Kaminski says. "The municipalities don't want these bills. Groups that represent individual citizens don't want them. Many clerks are opposed."

Kaminski is especially troubled by the changes to advance voter registration. No longer can address information be verified via delivery of a postcard from clerks' offices; now registrants must present proof of residence to clerks or others authorized to register voters.

That, she says, will disadvantage students and others who don't have ready access to the required proofs of residence. And it will make it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register people in public places. Says Kaminski, "Not everybody is walking around the Dane County Farmers' Market with a bank statement in their back pocket."

The office of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who has pledged to "do whatever it takes to make sure that voter ID becomes the law in Wisconsin," did not respond to a request for comment about the lack of lobby support for such bills. Staff to state Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) responded to say, "I don't think we will have a comment on this."

State Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) is not so reticent: "I suspect that those organizations don't want to be on record as being opposed to open democracy."


Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight.

The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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