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The truth about election reform in Wisconsin

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Andrea Kaminski
April 12, 2010

Itís remarkable how easily information can be distorted in the information age. Before you believe something you hear or read, itís worth checking the facts.


A case in point is Sen. Glenn Grothmanís response to an election reform bill before the Legislature.The bill promises to modernize our state voter registration system, bring Wisconsin into compliance with federal law in serving military and overseas voters, prohibit voter intimidation and improve absentee voting.


To set the record straight, hereís the truth about a few of the senatorís objections to the bill:


1) He claimed the bill allows municipalities to set up satellite absentee ballot stations for early voting ďin college dorms, outside of bars, or other inappropriate locals.Ē (sic)


Fact: The bill requires a municipality to notify the Government Accountability Board at least 14 days before using an alternate site. All requirements for polling sites are applied to alternate sites throughout the bill.


2) He claimed a permanent absentee ballot status would be established in which ballots would be mailed to ďpeople who historically do not vote in low-turnout elections.Ē


Fact: A voter would have to request this service. The bill directs clerks to remove a voterís name from the list if the person moves or is no longer qualified.


3) University IDs would serve as proof of residence for registration and voting.


Fact: A student ID would serve as proof of residence if it matches the name in a current, official list of students living in university- or college-sponsored housing.


4) Municipalities will be forced to hire speakers of a foreign language if at least 5 percent of the adults in a district arenít English proficient.


Fact: It appears the senator is protesting provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which have been firmly established federal law since 1975.


5) The bill would set up a statewide database of voters that might someday be linked to a national database.


Fact: We already have the Statewide Voter Registration System database, as required by federal law. This bill would link the SVRS to other state databases, beginning with the DMV. When you apply for a Wisconsin driverís license or state ID, your information would automatically be incorporated into the voter database. You would still have to affirm that the information is correct and that youíre qualified to vote before you will actually be registered.


By linking the databases, we wonít have hundreds of thousands of voters whose information in the SVRS doesnít match their DMV information due to pesky things like middle initials, hyphenated names and typographic errors. This will save money because election officials will have to do less data entry and less follow up on errors. The DMV database is a good place to start, but we hope other state agencies will be linked in the future, particularly those that provide services to citizens who are less likely to have driverís licenses or state ID cards.


We urge legislators and voters to consider the facts before judging reform.


Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund. The nonpartisan organization encourages active, informed participation in government, increases understanding of major public policy issues, and influences policy through education and advocacy. Wisconsin has 17 local Leagues. Readers can reach Kaminski at (608) 256-0827 or akaminskilwv@gmail.com.

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