Stone: 'I'm very concerned about the use of 'disenfranchisement' when the bill cannot disenfranchise people, because that would be unconstitutional.'
Opponents of Assembly Bill 7 (AB-7) packed the Assembly Committee on Election and Campaign Reform's public hearing on the Wisconsin Voter Identification Bill Wednesday.
AB-7 would require certain identification at the polls and increase residency requirements, in addition to ending straight-ticket voting and strengthening absentee voter regulation.
Although some testified in favor of the bill's elimination of party-line voting and protections against voter fraud, they were few and far between at a hearing dominated largely by University of Wisconsin students from Madison and Milwaukee whose rounds of applause intermittently disrupted the hearing.
In its current from, AB-7's list of usable forms of identification includes Wisconsin driver's license or state ID, passports, tribal identification, military ID and naturalization papers.
Speaking on behalf of her constituents and as a student, Dane County Board Supervisor Analiese Eicher (Dist. 5) urged representatives to consider including student identification and keep current residency requirements.
"Show us we're valued," said Eicher. "Show us you value our opinion, our presence, our desire to vote and be valued by the people who represent us in our legislative bodies."
Some like David Vines, a UW-Madison freshman from New York City, spoke about access to the Department of Motor Vehicles, a problem he said was present in Madison, but even more prominent on other state campuses.
"Obviously, I waited four hours to speak to you here today," said Vines of his commitment to voting, but "you can't expect incoming freshmen to waltz over to the DMV when most haven't been to Madison before in their lives."
Others were more blunt.
"To me, [AB-7] sounds like a poll tax," testified Milwaukee County Supervisor Nikiya Harris.
Harris said single mothers and others with little time, little money and long hours would be unduly burdened when trying to access the DMV and obtain acceptable ID.
Harris, like many at Wednesday's hearing, cited a study by the UW-Milwaukee's John Pawasarat, which found that minorities disproportionately comprise the number of voters without licenses. According to the 2005 study, only 26% of African-Americans and 34% of Hispanics have a valid Wisconsin driver's license.
"This particular legislation makes it harder for people like me to vote," said Harris, an African-American woman. "It makes it difficult for people who look like me to have a representative who looks like them."
Committee Vice-chair, Rep. Kathleen Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), disputed the study, saying comparable statistics she obtained from the Government Accountability Board were "much more forgiving."
Others testified about the difficulties the elderly, particularly those in nursing homes, and those with disabilities could face under new absentee voting restrictions.
Still others, like UW-Madison pharmacy student Stephen Pedroza, contested State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's claims of voter fraud, arguing the recorded instances "do not justify spending millions of taxpayer dollars."
"Where are the hundreds, if not thousands of voter fraud convictions needed to justify this bill?" demanded Pedroza.
Although the hearing was intended to focus on public testimony, several representatives staked out their own positions as well.
Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) and Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) both spoke against the AB-7, with Roys advocating extra time to accommodate all of those who wished to testify even after the committee's 4 p.m. deadline expired.
AB-7 author Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and Rep. Pridemore (R-Hartford) strongly supported the bill,
Rep. Stone asked hearing participants to use care with the word "disenfranchisement," only applying it to situations in which the bill would make it "impossible" for eligible voters to access the polls.
"I'm very concerned about the use of 'disenfranchisement' when the bill cannot disenfranchise people, because that would be unconstitutional," said Stone, insisting in response to shouts from the crowd, "It does not do that!"
Although both Rep. Stone and Rep. Pridemore supported the bill, both said they would consider changes.