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Latest voter ID bill appears dead on arrival (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The latest proposal to require Wisconsin voters to show photo identification at the polls appears to be dead on arrival.

The Republican Legislature passed a photo ID requirement in 2011, but courts blocked it soon after, and it is not in effect. A pair of Republican state Assembly members circulated a new bill Thursday, with the hopes of holding a hearing next week and taking a vote later in November.

But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told The Associated Press he does not plan to take the bill up in the Senate. Fitzgerald said it makes more sense to see what happens with lawsuits currently pending in both state appeals and federal court, including one that’s headed to trial starting Monday.

“We should sit tight right now,” Fitzgerald said.

The bill would have to pass the Senate and Assembly in identical form, and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker, before taking effect. Fitzgerald said even if that were to happen, a new law would just trigger another round of lawsuits.

Enacting a photo ID requirement has been a top priority of Republicans for years. They were stymied by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who vetoed such a requirement three times between 2002 and 2005. Republicans took full control of the Legislature in 2011 and quickly passed the bill.

Republicans backers argue photo ID requirements help combat voter fraud. Democrats counter that Republicans have never produced evidence of any widespread fraud in Wisconsin and that the mandate would keep poor people, immigrants and senior citizens from voting.

“We’re confident that Wisconsinites will see this latest round of voting restrictions for what it really is — a cynical ploy to keep voters away from the polls,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate.

The 2011 law was quickly challenged in court, and last year a Dane County judge ruled that the law is unconstitutional. That case is now before the state Court of Appeals.


The trial over a separate federal lawsuit is scheduled to begin Monday in Milwaukee. Those challenging the law, including groups that deal with issues of racial justice, say the law disenfranchises black and Hispanic voters because they’re far less likely to have one of the types of state-issued IDs required to vote.

The trial is being closely watched around the country because voter ID remains a contentious issue in many states. At least 15 states require voters to show photo ID, and legislation in dozens of others includes proposals to either introduce new voter ID laws or strengthen existing ones.

The Wisconsin lawsuit was brought on behalf of a 77-year-old black Brookfield woman who was born at home in rural Tennessee and was never issued a birth certificate. Bettye Jones, who died after the lawsuit was filed, had many forms of identification, including a valid Ohio driver’s license, but her family had to spend months navigating a bureaucratic maze before she could get a Wisconsin ID, said her daughter, Debra Crawford.

The bill circulated Thursday attempts to address that concern.

Under the new proposal, any voter who doesn’t have the required identification would take an oath that they can’t afford the fees to obtain the ID, that they have a religious objection to being photographed or that they cannot obtain the necessary documents, such as an original birth certificate, to obtain proof of ID.

Once that oath is made, the person can vote and have their ballot counted. However, it is marked and could be challenged if there is a recount.

The bill also expands the allowable forms of ID to include veterans’ identification cards issued by the Veterans Health Administration.

The measure is sponsored by Republican Reps. Michael Schraa, of Oshkosh, and Mark Born, of Beaver Dam.

“We hope that this bill will finally bring integrity and trust to Wisconsin’s elections,” Schraa and Born said in a memo seeking co-sponsors.

But Fitzgerald said the bill was weaker than the current law, which he hopes the courts will uphold. If not, the courts can spell out exactly what changes need to be made to make it constitutional, he said.

Associated Press writer Dinesh Ramde also contributed to this report.

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