By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill that would require Wisconsin voters to show photo identification during a ragged session Thursday, clearing the way for Gov. Scott Walker to sign the measure into law next week.
Assembly Republicans passed the measure in a late-night session last week. Republicans who control the Senate brought the bill up for debate on Tuesday. Democrats railed against it into the early morning hours on Wednesday, finally using a procedural maneuver to delay the final vote until Thursday.
Republicans limited debate to an hour when senators came to the floor. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told Democrats they were given plenty of time talk about the bill. Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, accused Republicans of acting like dictators.
“Madison looks more like Moscow today,” Jauch said. “This is a Republican majority that has gone berserk with power.”
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, was speaking when the hour ended. Confusion ensued as Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, interrupted Risser to ask to adjourn and Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, began a roll call. Republicans started recording their votes as Risser shouted at Ellis that no one had ever cut him off in his 55 years in the Legislature.
Ellis announced the bill had passed 19-5 and adjourned before nine Democrats voted. Protesters packed into the Senate’s overhead gallery erupted into shouts of “Shame!” and “Recall!”
Republicans have been pushing the photo ID bill for years. They contend it’s needed to curtail voter fraud.
Democrats maintain widespread fraud doesn’t exist in Wisconsin and Republicans just want to disenfranchise Democrat constituencies such as senior citizens, college students and the poor.
Only 20 voter fraud cases have been prosecuted by the state Department of Justice and Milwaukee County district attorney’s office stemming from the November 2008 presidential election. None of those prosecuted involved people voting using someone else’s name at the polls.
Then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, vetoed similar GOP photo ID proposals three times between 2002 and 2005. But now Republicans control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, making passage inevitable. Walker said he will sign the bill on Wednesday.
“Requiring photo identification to vote will go a long way to eliminate the threat of voter fraud,” the governor said in a statement. “If you need an ID to buy cold medicine, it’s reasonable to require it to vote.”
Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, was the only Republican who addressed the bill on the floor. He told Democrats that people need an ID to do almost everything, from driving a car to buying beer. Most people want to make sure their elections are fair, he said.
“If you plan your life, you can get (an ID). And most people already have one,” he said. “One fraudulent vote cancels out a legal vote.”
Under the bill, voters would have to present a driver’s license, a state ID, a passport, a military ID, naturalization papers or a tribal ID. College students could vote with a school ID as long as it has their signature and an expiration date that falls within two years of the card’s issuance. University of Wisconsin IDs currently don’t meet that criteria and would have to be updated to comply before students could vote.
Nursing or retirement home residents as well as stalking victims and anyone who objects to having his or her photograph taken on religious grounds would be exempt. Voters who forget to bring an ID to the polls would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, but would have to show their ID to the local election clerk by the Friday after the election to have the ballot count.
Voters would be asked for ID in elections starting this year but will be allowed to vote without one. Beginning next year, they will not be allowed to cast a ballot without one.
A number of other changes would take effect immediately, including requiring voters to sign poll books and to live at their current address for 28 days rather than 10 before they could cast a ballot.
Those changes would come into play during possible Senate recall elections later this year. Groups have targeted six Republican and three Democratic senators for recall over their stances on Walker’s collective bargaining law, which strips public workers of nearly all their union rights.
One estimate put the ID bill’s cost at more than $7 million.
“In the end, what we’re doing here is very clear. Republicans want to wreck the Democratic Party,” Erpenbach said. “This bill is indefensible.”
Fitzgerald and the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, tried to hold a news conference on the bill after the vote, but left after the protesters challenged them on the bill’s constitutionality.