Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that he would call lawmakers into a special session to modify Wisconsin’s voter photo identification requirements if courts don’t uphold the current measure, which has been blocked since shortly after he signed it into law in 2011.
Meanwhile, the state Senate took up more than a dozen election-related measures, some of which drew criticism from Democrats as an attempt to suppress voting among traditionally Democratic groups. They included a bill that would end weekend voting prior to statewide elections.
Walker told reporters Tuesday that he sees voter ID as the most “pressing” election-related issue facing Wisconsin, and he would like the requirement to be in place “before the next election.”
“The only real thing I thought that was pressing, and it may still continue to be pressing depending on what the courts react on, is voter ID,” Walker said. “And so we’re monitoring that closely, trying to figure out if there need to be any modifications made to that that would pass the test of the court — in terms of being able to uphold a voter ID law, but potentially with modifications that might address any concerns that they have.”
The Republican governor, who is up for re-election, made his comments after a speech and bill signing before the Wisconsin Bankers
Association Capitol Day at Monona Terrace .
“In the end, people overwhelmingly told us in the state they want to have voter ID,” Walker said. “If the courts — regardless of which court it would be — were to say, ‘We think you can have it, if not for this provision or that provision,’ we want to modify that so that a law like that were in effect before the next election.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he would support taking up the voter ID bill if the governor were to call the Legislature into special session. He also didn’t rule out an extraordinary session convened by the Legislature in the fall.
“I don’t want to close the book on that, that’s for sure,” Fitzgerald told reporters before the Senate began meeting Tuesday.
Republicans who control the Legislature already passed a voter ID measure in 2011, and Walker signed the legislation into law.
But opponents who said the law was unconstitutional sued, and it has been tied up in the courts ever since. Two Dane County judges have blocked the measure.
The state Supreme Court is currently considering the issue, but it remains unclear exactly when the justices will rule. A federal judge in Milwaukee is also weighing voter ID in two more lawsuits.
The regular legislative session ends in April. The state Assembly already passed another voter ID law, but the Senate has not taken up that legislation. Fitzgerald has said senators wanted to see what happens in the courts first.
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“The Assembly has already passed a bill that would ensure that voter ID would be in place this fall,” said Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. “We are ready and willing to approve the legislation again.”
Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said it was “very unfortunate” Republicans were pursuing legislation that would restrict access to the ballot and lower voter turnout. She said they should be focused on job creation instead.
“The problems have never been that we have too many people voting in Wisconsin,” Zamarripa said.
The Senate debated other election-related bills, including legislation that would limit in-person absentee voting in the two weeks before an election to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Democrats used a procedural move to delay passage of that bill until Wednesday. Republicans approved an amendment providing state funding to municipal clerks to cover half the cost of extra staff needed to administer in-person absentee voting during the set hours.
“My god, who’s asking for this?” asked Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. “They’re not asking for it in rural Wisconsin. We’re supposed to be caretakers of democracy, not of a graveyard where we’re burying democracy.”
Republicans defended the bills as creating “fair elections, transparency and consistency.” Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said the limit on in-person absentee voting was intended to rein in municipalities that offered 50 or 60 hours of voting before an election, when some smaller municipalities only offer 10 to 15 hours. “We are not restricting anyone’s voting.”
During debate, Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, accused Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, of hating minorities which elicited a swift objection from the Elections Committee chairwoman and calls from other Republicans for Carpenter to apologize.
Democrats also used the procedural move to delay passage of three other election-related bills:
A measure to increase campaign and individual registration thresholds to $300 and allow lobbyists to make campaign donations starting on April 15 of an election year, or the end of a legislative session. The current period starts June 1.
A bill to allow poll workers to reside in the county, rather than the municipality, of their assigned ward.
A bill that would set buffer zones for election observers.
Other bills passed despite Democratic opposition would require municipal clerks to evenly assign Republican and Democratic poll workers to each precinct when possible, and set requirements for absentee voting at residential care facilities.
More than half of the election bills received Democratic support, such as those requiring a printed name in addition to a signature on nomination and recall petitions, cutting in half the number of signatures needed in citywide elections and, in most cases, not counting write-in ballots for candidates who haven’t filed campaign paperwork.
Walker said the elections bills haven’t been on his “radar,” adding he would look at the measures if they pass the Legislature .