State proposal to alter voting regulations

Long lines and confusing ballots are typical hassles Wisconsin voters might encounter on Election Day.

However, if a proposed bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is passed, these hassles could be replaced by an inability to vote at all.

Initially proposed in January by Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), the most recent version of Senate Bill 6 not only requires voters to present a photo ID at polls, but would also alter regulations on absentee ballots.

Stone said the proposal would go a long way in restoring confidence in elections and would take effect in the February 2012 primary.

The bill’s acceptable photo IDs would include a Wisconsin driver’s license, state-issued ID card, military ID, passport or naturalization certificate. Not included in the list are school-issued IDs, meaning students would not be able to present their university identification to vote.

The bill also alters the ability to attain absentee ballots. People could only receive absentees for reasons such as being out of town, illness, disability, employment, jury duty or being more than 70 years old.

Individuals voting with absentee ballots would have a shorter amount of time to deliver them to a municipal clerk’s office. Currently, voters have 30 days prior to an election to cast their vote. With the new bill, however, absentee ballots would only be allowed during the week leading up to the election.

The recently revised bill also focuses on voter fraud and how to reduce it. Voters would be required to sign poll books, which would help prosecutors identify individuals who vote under a different name than their own.

According to reports from the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Milwaukee County district attorney’s office, there were 20 cases of voter fraud during the November 2008 election. Of those, 11 were felons voting, six improper registration, two double votes and one a marital mishap.

Where Stone and supporters of the bill see its effectiveness in decreasing voter fraud, those against the proposal argue it would restrict rights of eligible voters and could cost money and time while having a discriminatory effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which works to ensure the civil rights of all residents, opposes the bill. Renee Shavers, the group’s associate director, said they are working to fight the bill on behalf of ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and the elderly.

She also said past records of voter fraud indicate it presents no real problem.

“To deny potentially thousands of voters the right to freely cast a ballot based on the non-existent problem of so-called voter fraud is unconscionable in a free society,” Shavers said.

Echoing her words, Mike Thomas, president of SEIU Wisconsin State Council, said a mere 20 cases of voter fraud in 2008 is nothing compared to the number of actual voters.

He also said the bill would cause more problems than already exist.

“It is unconstitutional and irresponsible for any legislator — Republican or Democrat — to attempt to silence voters,” Thomas said. “Republican legislators will have much unrest on their hands if they continue to condemn Wisconsin’s poor, elderly and minority populations.”

As political debate over the bill continues, Katie Lawler, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said the bill would have an impact on the state, but not on Marquette students. She claimed she did not know many students who voted in the past year’s elections.

“Obviously, if the bill passes it would affect a lot of voters statewide,” Lawler said. “But I don’t think the concern over students not being allowed to use their university IDs is pertinent … my guess is those here that do vote probably wouldn’t be using their Marquette IDs to do it.”