That’s SO Wisconsin: OVR Bill Advances Despite Partisan Dispute


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One of the few bipartisan success stories in election policy over the last few years has been the adoption of online voter registration. Many states have embraced the idea of allowing voters to register to vote and update their registrations online, and once the decision is is made the process of adopting and implementing the change is relatively uncontroversial – with a few exceptions.

Not surprisingly, Wisconsin is one of the exceptions.

OVR is moving ahead in the Badger State, but only after a nearly party-line vote because of another registration change included in the legislation. The Wisconsin State Journal has more:

The Assembly early Wednesday morning passed a bill allowing online voter registration in Wisconsin — but which critics say will halt some voter registration drives.

The bill would make Wisconsin the 31st state in which online registration is permitted, a move that has broad support.

Civic groups such as League of Women Voters have assailed a controversial provision in the bill that eliminates so-called Special Registration Deputies, or SRDs, from state law. Election clerks deputize SRDs to aid civic groups in conducting registration drives at senior centers, college campuses and public events.

Supporters of the bill have dismissed concerns that it will halt registration drives. With online registration, they say special registration deputies no longer will be needed because anyone could help a voter register online using tablets or other mobile devices.

Supporters say the criticism is unfounded, noting that the service provided by SRDs is replaced by OVR with less paper and chance for error:

Bill co-author Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said the bill is all about reducing paper.

“I am shocked that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are opposed to going paperless as it is saving trees and a progressive use of science and technology over the old way of doing business,” Bernier said.

But opponents say voter ID requirements make OVR a less-than-perfect replacement and say GOP support for the bill was foundering until the restrictions on SRDs were included:

Opponents of the bill note that it requires voters registering online to have an ID that meets the state voter ID requirement. Voter groups less likely to have a driver’s license or other ID, such as the very poor, elderly, students or minorities, would be excluded — and also are the voters most commonly served by the special deputies who lead registration drives, they have said.

 The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Devin LeMahieu, has said voters who lack the proper ID could be given paper registration forms instead. Or they could register at the polls on Election Day, by which time they’ll need an ID to vote anyway.

Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, a longtime advocate for online voter registration, said she was torn by her vote against the bill. She said the bill wasn’t gaining traction among Republicans before the elimination of special registration deputies, a sign the provision was all about politics.

“We are supposed to want people to vote,” Berceau said. “You put me in a real bind here and that’s really… fun?

The bill passed 56-38 with all Democrats and a few Republicans opposed.

These developments suggest that Wisconsin – which has already scrapped its existing nonpartisan state election administration system in favor of a bipartisan structure (on another party-line vote) – is finding a way to insert partisanship into an issue that’s generally free of it elsewhere around the country.

If nothing else, this latest dispute widens Wisconsin’s lead as the state with the most poisonous partisan environment for election policy changes across the country. It will be interesting to watch – but likely not pretty.

Stay tuned…

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