A bill requiring people to show photo identification when they vote was tentatively approved by the Republican-controlled state Senate on Thursday but can't pass until at least one of the body's 14 boycotting Democrats returns for a final vote.
The senators fled to Illinois last week in an effort to stop the Senate from passing Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to effectively end collective bargaining rights for public workers in Wisconsin. The plan has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the state Capitol day after day for nearly two weeks.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills said she was sorry the Democrats weren't at the Capitol to vote on the bill, calling it "critical to our whole election process."
Republicans say the measure will protect the integrity of elections and fight voter fraud. But Democrats have repeatedly said the bill is a GOP attempt to disenfranchise voters. It would require voters to show a valid, in-state photo ID with their current addresses before they could vote. Critics say it will make it harder for students, senior citizens, minorities and others to cast ballots.
Republicans adopted amendments to the original bill so that several additional forms of ID for voting would be acceptable, including passports, naturalization papers and tribal identification. Student IDs, something opponents wanted included, would not be allowed.
Wisconsin voters currently aren't required to show any form of ID before voting. Photo identification is required currently in nine other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eighteen states require the ID only, not necessarily one with a photo.
The new requirement would be in effect for the April election, but voters who don't have IDs would still be allowed to cast their ballots. It would fully take effect in 2012.
The proposal also requires voters to have been at their current addresses for at least 28 days before an election. The current requirement is just 10 days.
Republicans, who control the Senate 19-14, weren't able to vote on final passage because the bill is a fiscal measure — meaning they need at least 20 members present to hold a vote. But they were able to move the legislation past the stage where it can be amended. That means Senate Democrats will only be able to vote yes or no on the bill when and if they return, but they won't be able to offer changes.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.