UW-ELECTIONDAY-APRIL-05-04052016163844 (copy)

UW-Madison students vote on campus in the Wisconsin presidential primary in April.

A series of changes to Wisconsin election laws including a voter ID requirement hasn't negatively affected voting in suburban communities near Milwaukee, city and county clerks testified in federal court Tuesday.

"From the start, we have had virtually no problems at all," said Waukesha County clerk Kathleen Novack.

Their testimony came as the state began its defense in a trial challenging voting policies signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker between 2011 and 2015 including restrictions on early voting hours and locations, the elimination of straight-ticket voting and the photo identification requirement.

The lawsuit contends those changes place a disproportionate burden on non-white voters. Tuesday marked the seventh day of the trial, which is expected to last almost two weeks.

Attorneys for the state argue the plaintiffs are using anecdotal, "one-in-a-million" cases as an argument to strike down the laws. They have noted the state's increased turnout in elections that have occurred since the voter ID law was passed in 2011 and emphasized that the state Department of Motor Vehicles provides free IDs to those who need them.

Cedarburg city clerk Constance McHugh testified that a policy limiting in-person absentee voting to one location allows her to have more control over the process, and said she believes more than one location would be confusing for Cedarburg voters.

McHugh said she hasn't seen long lines or other complications as a result of the photo ID requirement, and said voters in her community have been pleased to have it in place. 

Port Washington city clerk Susan Westerbeke agreed that the provision barring municipalities from having more than one location for in-person absentee voting is a good policy.

Westerbeke also spoke favorably of a provision limiting early voting hours and eliminating weekend voting, arguing statewide consistency can limit voter confusion.

Voters in Port Washington generally receive their news from Milwaukee media, she said, and might be confused if Milwaukee offered weekend voting while Port Washington didn't.

Cedarburg and Port Washington are both cities of about 11,000 in Ozaukee County, not far from Milwaukee's population of 600,000. Cedarburg is 96 percent white, and Port Washington is 95 percent white, compared to 45 percent of Milwaukee.

Ozaukee County as a whole is about 95 percent white and neighboring Waukesha County is about 94 percent white. With Washington County — 96 percent white — they make up the state's deep-red "WOW counties." The deeply conservative counties form an arc around Democratic Milwaukee County, which is 65 percent white.

Novack said she believes eliminating weekend voting "level(s) the playing field" between large urban areas and smaller suburban and rural communities that lack the resources to staff weekend hours.

"If there’s an office open 30 days versus an office that’s only open 10 work days, there are obviously voters that have a lot more access than someone else," Novack said. "There has to come a point where it’s just giving over-access … to particular parts of the state." 

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Asked whether she thought voters in Milwaukee and Madison — communities that previously used weekend voting — had too much access, Novack said, "too much access to the voters as far as opportunities."

If long lines start to form at a polling place, Novack said, it would make more sense to add more staff and open more lines within that location rather than opening a second one.

"For instance if you’re in the grocery store and there’s a long line, they open up another line," she said.

She also argued long lines could be evidence that access is not an issue in urban areas.

"Apparently access is an easy thing or they wouldn’t have long lines," she said.

Plaintiffs in the case include One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and six individuals. The first week of the trial included testimony from elections experts, DMV employees, a former Republican legislative staffer and several witnesses who faced difficulties obtaining photo IDs.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.