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Karen Wessels, left, registers to vote in the April 2014 election with poll worker Nancy Neevel.

Special registration deputies — the voter-registration volunteers whose elimination became central to the debate over Wisconsin’s new online voter registration law — likely will be able to continue to register voters through the November election, the state elections board said Monday.

A law establishing online voter registration in Wisconsin, signed by Gov. Scott Walker last month, does away with the deputies who help conduct voter-registration drives.

The measure linked the abolition of the deputies to the implementation of online voter registration, either this year or next.

Online registration likely won’t be ready for prime time by the November election, according to the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Government Accountability Board, the state elections board.

The state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, which will provide information for the voter-registration database, advised the board of that timeline last month.

Having online registration in place by the November election would be “too tight a time frame for a project of this importance and magnitude,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Patricia Mayers said in a statement.

Assuming the timeline is not accelerated, that means the special deputies may continue to register voters through the upcoming election, board spokesman Reid Magney said in a statement.

The only exception relates to the deputies registering voters at polling places, which no longer is permitted under the law. The law creates new “election registration officials” to fill that role instead.

Supporters of the online-registration law have said the special deputies no longer will be needed when the state has online registration, which they say would enable almost anyone to help a voter register.

The registration deputies are deputized by election clerks and receive special training. They bring registration forms to voter drives, help voters complete them, verify voters’ places of residence and return completed forms to election clerks.

The deputies have been championed by groups such as League of Women Voters — many of whose members are deputies — as integral to boosting voter registration in underserved communities. Their elimination was key to Democrats’ opposition to the law, which passed the Legislature with only Republican support.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin registers thousands of voters each year with help from the deputies, according to its executive director, Andrea Kaminski. Kaminski said Monday that she’s pleased to hear the deputies likely may continue to function for now.

“That’s our plan: just to keep registering voters as long as we can,” Kaminski said.

The law made Wisconsin the 31st state to allow voters to register or update their registrations online. Lawmakers from both parties generally support online registration; the elimination of the registration deputies — along with some other specifics in the measure — were the sticking points.


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.