Eliminating Election Day voter registration in Wisconsin is a solution in search of a problem.
That's the view of voting rights and progressive advocacy groups across the state in the wake of a statement made Nov. 19 by Gov. Scott Walker that he might push for the elimination of Election Day, or same-day, registration.
Doing away with Election Day registration, however, would have done nothing to prevent the few voter fraud cases that have been prosecuted in the state.
According to the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, 20 individuals have been charged and convicted of crimes related to fraudulent voting dating back to the 2008 presidential election. through an Election Fraud Task Force, a joint effort by state Department of Justice, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement.
Of the 20 found guilty, 12 were felons who voted illegally while still on probation. Two people were found guilty of voting twice, in different locations; one man was found guilty of falsifying information to obtain an absentee ballot for his deceased wife (it was her dying wish to vote for Obama, he claimed); and five were found guilty of providing false information to procure voter registration forms.
But none of these cases would have been prevented if same-day registration was ended because none of the perpetrators registered on Election Day. All filled out their forms in the months prior to voting day.
“There is no known fraud that would support doing away with same-day registration,” says Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. “We think laws should be written to address a real problem and provide a real solution.”
Officials with One Wisconsin Now, United Wisconsin and We Are Wisconsin, all made similar assertions at a Capitol press conference Thursday.
The groups collected 15,000 online signatures in a week’s time from Wisconsin residents opposed to the discontinuation of Election Day registration.
The petitions were delivered to the Governor’s Office Thursday.
"The politicians trying to eliminate same-day voter registration are seeking to change the rules to gain partisan political advantage," says Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now’s executive director. "That is the true election fraud occurring in Wisconsin today."
Walker’s statement, made during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation in California earlier this month, immediately caught the attention of voting rights advocates back home.
Since then Walker has backtracked a bit.
His spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said Friday in an email that while Walker favors the elimination of Election Day registration, he has no plans to push for it.
Shortly after the Nov. 6 election, two top Republican lawmakers claimed President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin defeated their Republican opponents in Wisconsin because of voter fraud.
Ross says his office has contacted Sens. Glenn Grothman and Alberta Darling asking for proof that would back up the statements each made following the Nov. 6 election.
Ross says nothing has been provided thus far.
Grothman, Darling and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, did not return calls asking them if it would be a priority in the upcoming session to introduce a bill to repeal Election Day registration and what types of fraudulent voter activity such a bill would seek to prevent.
Despite the governor’s statement, the issue doesn’t appear to be going away.
Reid Magney, a spokesman with the state’s Government Accountability Board that oversees state election laws, says staff will present board members at their Dec. 18 meeting with the fiscal and administrative impact of eliminating same-day registration.
“We took the initiative because we knew it is going to be an issue,” Magney says. “We are also responding to a number of requests from legislative agencies and lawmakers.”
Wisconsin clerks already have voiced opposition to the idea.
“It will make it more burdensome,” Sun Prairie City Clerk Diane Hermann-Brown, a former Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association president, told the Cap Times last week, adding, “It would be a logistical nightmare.”
In some states that do not offer Election Day registration, voters can register when they apply for or renew their driver’s license. But as Fiona Cahill, a coalition member with We Are Wisconsin, pointed out Thursday, college students like herself often move annually.
Election Day registration allows them to update their information without having to go the Department of Motor Vehicles each time they move.
Kaminski says eliminating Election Day registration also would likely result in more provisional ballots being cast.
These ballots are filled out by voters at their polling location but set aside in an envelope. The voter has until the Friday following the election to prove his or her identity. At that time, the ballot is counted.
Kaminski says only 20 percent of provisional ballots ever get counted. In contrast, with same-day registration, voters can change their name or address and still cast their ballot and have it immediately counted, she says.
“The provisional ballot is not a good system,” she says. “Same-day registration is something we have had for 36 years. It’s good that we can make changes on Election Day and still be able to vote and have it counted. It is a safeguard.”