MADISON, Wis. (AP) – One of the chief authors of Wisconsin’s voter photo identification plan is shopping around a new bill designed to allay legal concerns that the requirements are too burdensome by letting poor people opt out.
Republican lawmakers passed voter photo ID requirements two years ago, saying the move was needed to combat election fraud. But a pair of Dane County judges struck the requirements down in separate lawsuits last year. One ruled the requirements were unconstitutional because some people entitled to vote might lack the resources to obtain an ID. The other said the law substantially impairs the right to vote for poor people, noting birth certificates are required to obtain the IDs and voters who lack them must pay for them.
The state Justice Department has appealed both decisions. Two federal lawsuits challenging the requirements are still pending.
Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, was one of the main sponsors of the voter ID bill two years ago. He began circulating a new measure last week that would make a multitude of changes to Wisconsin election law, chief among them provisions that would allow voters to opt out of showing photo identification if they sign an affidavit for poll inspectors saying they’re poor and can’t obtain the identification without paying a fee; have a religious objection to being photographed; or they can’t obtain the proper documents needed to acquire photo identification.
Those voters’ ballots would be marked and canvassers could review them for validity in the event of a recount, Stone said. Municipal clerks or election commissioners also would be allowed to investigate the voter’s qualifications.
“We want to address the concerns that have come up as the case has worked through the courts,” Stone said. “If we pass this bill we’ll once again have photo ID in place in Wisconsin.”
Lester Pines is the attorney who brought one of the Dane County lawsuits challenging voter ID on behalf of the League of Women Voters. He said Stone’s bill is essentially an admission that the original bill is unconstitutional. He hadn’t studied the new bill carefully but called it a positive step.
“I would be less than honest if I didn’t say they’re getting closer,” Pines said. “Maybe they can get it right this time.”
Assembly Assistant Minority Leader Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, said in a statement Republicans should focus on legislation that creates jobs rather than “pushing a divisive and unnecessary anti-voter agenda.”
The bill doesn’t stop at voter ID. It makes a number of other changes to state election law, including allowing corporations to make political contributions, bringing Wisconsin law in line with the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision.
The measure also would permit lobbyists to make contributions to state candidates between the first day the candidates can circulate nomination papers and the day of the election. Currently lobbyists can make contributions between June 1 and Election Day.
Voters would be barred from submitting electronic forms of documents proving residence during registration. The state Government Accountability Board also would have to create a list of all registered voters that includes what type of documents they submitted.
Candidates seeking recounts would have to pay $25 per ward or per undivided municipality rather than the current $5. The measure wouldn’t change current state law allowing free recount for candidates in an election where 1,000 or fewer voters were cast or the margin between the winner and loser is between 0.5 percent and 2 percent of the total votes, however.
School boards would be prohibited from spending any state aid or local tax dollars to spread word about any referendum on whether their districts could exceed revenue limits.
And anyone looking to recall a local official would have to show the official has been charged with a crime or ethics violation. Under current law, anyone who circulates a recall petition against a local official must indicate a reason related to the official’s duties. Local officials have been pressing lawmakers to tighten up the requirements, saying its currently too easy to initiate a recall against them. Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, has introduced a stand-alone bill mirroring Stone’s criminal and ethics language.
Stone said it makes sense to include all the election changes in one sweeping bill rather than have 20 or 30 pieces of legislation floating around. Stone sent an email to his fellow legislators on Friday giving them until noon on Wednesday to sign on as co-sponsors.
“(The bill will) make for an election system that’s fair and accurate for everyone,” Stone said.
Republicans control both the state Assembly and Senate as well as the governor’s office. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said Vos expects the body to vote on the measure yet this spring.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, was vague, saying Fitzgerald’s staff was still going through the bill.