Gov. Scott Walker said he was only looking out for beleaguered pollworkers when he suggested during a talk in California earlier this month that Wisconsin should consider getting rid of same-day voter registration.
But the state's municipal clerks — the ones who run elections — are not looking to be relieved of the extra work, said Diane Hermann-Brown, election communications chairwoman for the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks' Association. In fact, eliminating the practice would create a "heavy burden" on municipalities and the state, said Hermann-Brown, who is the city clerk in Sun Prairie.
"There's no way we'd be in favor of that," she said.
If same-day registration were eliminated, the state would no longer be exempt from a whole raft of federal provisions, Hermann-Brown said, including requiring state social-service agencies and driver's license bureaus to register voters.
Clerks also would be required to issue provisional ballots to voters whose registrations could not immediately be verified, she said. Such ballots require extra effort by both clerks and voters before they can be counted. And large numbers of uncounted provisional ballots means election results could be delayed by days, Hermann-Brown said.
Walker said asking pollworkers to also register voters made for too much work, and "it'd be much better if registration was done in advance of Election Day." Spokesman Cullen Werwie has declined to elaborate, saying the governor would evaluate any such bill if one is introduced.
But Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said the provision "is not really a big hassle."
"It takes about a minute to process such a registration," she said. "Then it's in the system for the next election."
Between 100,000 and 450,000 Wisconsinites register at the polls each general election, or between 7 percent and 20 percent of all voters, according to the Government Accountability Board, the state's election agency. During the June 5 recall election, for example, 266,974 voters registered the same day, or 10.6 percent of everyone who voted. Statewide figures for the Nov. 6 election are not yet available.
The GAB has been studying the fiscal and administrative effects of getting rid of the 36-year-old provision and is expected to discuss the issue Dec. 18, spokesman Reid Magney said,
Wisconsin is among eight states with Election Day registration; two others have passed but not yet implemented it. Wisconsin is known for its high voter turnout, and same-day registration is often cited as a major reason.
Hermann-Brown said it might be useful to look at what the Legislature declared in 1976 when it passed same-day registration: "The vote is the single most critical act in our democratic system of government ... (and) voter registration was not intended to and should not prevent voting."