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Voting bills get little lobby support

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Some Republican state lawmakers, upset by a federal judge’s ruling against the state’s voter identification law, are vowing to introduce new legislation.

Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, say changes are needed to ensure that voter fraud does not occur. Democrats say the real purpose is to turn away poorer voters who lack IDs and lean Democratic.

Wisconsin’s law, passed in 2011, would require all voters present a state-approved photo ID. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman struck down the law April 29, saying it would disproportionately affect racial minorities, violating the Voting Rights Act.

Adelman, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said there was virtually no evidence of voter impersonation in Wisconsin. He concluded that because 300,000 eligible voters lack photo IDs, the law would “prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”

The unequivocal ruling, which the state is appealing, dampened Republican calls to pass some form of voter ID before the fall elections. State Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, want to introduce a bill next year that would let certain voters cast specially marked ballots after signing an affidavit. A similar bill passed the Assembly last session but died in the Senate.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin opposed the earlier bill, which executive director Andrea Kaminski called “an effort to do the least possible to make voter ID constitutional.” Common Cause in Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee also opposed the bill.

In fact, no group with a paid lobbyist registered in favor of the bill, which passed the Assembly on a 54-38 party-line vote. That and other voting-related bills seem to defy the popular belief that lobbying drives legislation.

The 2011 voter ID bill passed despite being opposed by more than 30 state lobby groups, from Disability Rights Wisconsin to Milwaukee County to the United Transportation Union. Only two groups, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and an engineers union, were in favor, and they accounted for just 11 of the 1,300 hours of reported lobbying activity.

voteAnd no lobby groups backed bills that passed in the recent session to limit absentee voting, change the rules for advance voter registration and let election observers stand within 3 feet of the tables where voters register or check in.

“When the proponents of these measures say there’s popular support, it’s not showing up on the lobbying reports,” Kaminski said. “The municipalities don’t want these bills. Groups that represent individual citizens don’t want them. Many clerks are opposed.”

The office of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who has pledged to “do whatever it takes to make sure that voter ID becomes the law in Wisconsin,” did not respond to a request for comment about the lack of lobby support for such bills.

But state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, did respond: “I suspect that those organizations don’t want to be on record as being opposed to open democracy.”

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