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Voter ID bill signing
Gov. Scott Walker lightheartedly explains to children in the audience why he has multiple pens during a signing ceremony for the voter ID bill. Such pens are often given as keepsakes to sponsoring legislators or other key supporters of legislation.

Election officials across Wisconsin are bracing for a difficult transition as the state rushes into place new rules for voting signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker Wednesday — including a controversial measure requiring voters to use photo IDs.

Passage of the controversial law, which has been discussed by Republicans for more than a decade, means those charged with enforcing it have just under two months to develop and implement the training needed to handle polls in the coming recall elections.

“This will be a huge undertaking, to get everything and everybody ready,” said Diane Hermann-Brown, Sun Prairie city clerk and president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association. “We still have questions about how this will work.”

Walker signed the bill before a packed room Wednesday, reminding the crowd that he had authored a similar bill 10 years earlier, when he was a state representative.

“So contrary to what some have said, this has not been rushed,” he said. “Some bills take longer than others.” Walker said the bill “protects the integrity of every single vote.”

With passage of the law, Wisconsin joins Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and South Carolina as states with photo ID requirements. Four other states request photo IDs but allow voters to cast regular ballots without one. The Wisconsin measure, which could cost the state as much as $7.5 million to execute, has long divided Republicans and Democrats.

Supporters contend it will cut down on voter fraud and say it’s reasonable to expect the same level of scrutiny for voting as for cashing checks, renting cars or using credit cards. Opponents say it is a solution without a problem. They fear it discourages people from voting, especially college students, seniors, minorities and people with disabilities.

But such philosophical arguments matter little to the state’s 1,851 clerks, who are now tasked with enforcing the law. For most of them, the next few months will be spent learning which IDs are legal, what options voters will have if they don’t have an ID and how to deal with the likely increase in provisional ballots.

Hermann-Brown spent much of this week studying the new law, which requires that voters live at their current address for at least 28 days — up from 10 currently — and use a photo ID to verify their identity. Acceptable identification cards include a driver’s license, state ID, military ID, passport, naturalization papers or tribal ID.

The photo ID component goes into effect for the spring 2012 primary, but the residency requirement — as well as some other educational components — goes into effect immediately.

Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Government Accountability Board, said this means a lot of work needs to get done in short order. The first of several expected recall elections have been tentatively set for July 12.

GAB is developing a plan for training poll workers on the fly. Officials are also working on educational literature that will be made available to voters.

Those who show up in July will be asked for a photo ID. If they don’t have one, poll workers will give them a flier or pamphlet that discusses details of the new law and informs them that photo IDs will be mandatory in 2012.

Fond du Lac City Clerk Sue Strands oversees 41 polling locations that serve some 23,000 registered voters. Fond du Lac is expected to host a recall election for Sen. Randy Hopper in July.

“I have about 80 volunteers who need to be trained,” she said. “We will make it work. But I’m not sure there is enough time between now and then to fully prepare the public.”     

Public education

GAB is planning a longer-term educational campaign that will include a media component. Officials estimate it will cost more than $500,000 for billboards and ads, and another $150,000 for public outreach. Those numbers square with similar campaigns in other states. Georgia, which passed photo ID in 2007, spent $850,000 in education and outreach. But none of that is expected to occur before the recall elections take place.

Beyond that, Hermann-Brown said she expects poll workers will deal with a major increase in provisional ballots, which are cast when voters do not have proper ID. Such ballots take more time to handle and can delay election results.

Wisconsin voters filed just 64 provisional ballots in 2010. That same year they cast more than 5,000 “corroborated” votes, or votes in which a document like an electric bill was used to verify residency.

Hermann-Brown said corroborated votes are one indicator of how many people will likely show up without photo IDs in future elections. The new law requires those voters to cast provisional ballots and return with an acceptable photo ID by 4 p.m. on the Friday after Election Day.

Another area where Hermann-Brown expects problems is absentee voting. The new law shortens the amount of time for in-person absentee voting at the clerk’s office from 30 days down to two weeks. It will also require voters mailing in ballots to include a copy of their photo ID.

“Some will forget,” she said. “Some just won’t know. Either way, there will be confusion. And the confusion will lead to longer lines and longer waits.”

State Journal reporter Mary Spicuzza contributed to this report.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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