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Assembly OKs online voter registration, eliminates special registration deputies

Assembly OKs online voter registration, eliminates special registration deputies

From the Get caught up on everything that happened in the Legislature series

The Assembly early Wednesday morning passed a bill allowing online voter registration in Wisconsin — but which critics say will halt some voter registration drives.

The bill would make Wisconsin the 31st state in which online registration is permitted, a move that has broad support.

Civic groups such as League of Women Voters have assailed a controversial provision in the bill that eliminates so-called Special Registration Deputies, or SRDs, from state law. Election clerks deputize SRDs to aid civic groups in conducting registration drives at senior centers, college campuses and public events.

Supporters of the bill have dismissed concerns that it will halt registration drives. With online registration, they say special registration deputies no longer will be needed because anyone could help a voter register online using tablets or other mobile devices.

Bill co-author Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said the bill is all about reducing paper.

"I am shocked that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are opposed to going paperless as it is saving trees and a progressive use of science and technology over the old way of doing business," Bernier said.

Opponents of the bill note that it requires voters registering online to have an ID that meets the state voter ID requirement. Voter groups less likely to have a driver's license or other ID, such as the very poor, elderly, students or minorities, would be excluded — and also are the voters most commonly served by the special deputies who lead registration drives, they have said.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Devin LeMahieu, has said voters who lack the proper ID could be given paper registration forms instead. Or they could register at the polls on Election Day, by which time they'll need an ID to vote anyway.

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, a longtime advocate for online voter registration, said she was torn by her vote against the bill. She said the bill wasn't gaining traction among Republicans before the elimination of special registration deputies, a sign the provision was all about politics.

"We are supposed to want people to vote," Berceau said. "You put me in a real bind here and that’s really… fun?

The bill passed 56-38 with all Democrats and a few Republicans opposed.

Republicans also amended the bill to close a loophole in previously adopted changes to the state's campaign finance law that could allow out-of-state political action committees to give unlimited contributions to state political parties and legislative campaign committees. The amendment limits such contributions to $12,000 a year.

The bill passed the Senate last week on a 19-13 vote. The Senate has to vote on the bill again with the amendment before it heads to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.

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