Oct 8, 2011

Wisconsin Poll Workers Falsely Told Voters: Expired Drivers' Licenses Mean No Voting

Long lines, confusion, errors mark dry run of Republican voter suppression law, just as Republicans intend

League of Women Voters issues new report.

MADISON: The League of Women Voters yesterday presented to state election officials a report on findings from a citizen election observer program. The initiative placed poll watchers in all eight of the state senate districts that had recall elections in August.

The League, in concert with other nonpartisan groups, recruited and trained more than 130 volunteers to observe the general recall elections conducted in August 2011. The League’s report summarized observations from 94 polling locations located in towns, villages and cities in the eight senate districts.

“The League was motivated by concerns about the implementation of Wisconsin’s new election law. There was insufficient time before this summer’s elections to train local election officials and voters themselves about the very significant changes in election law. Our observers were looking for problems related to the new law as well as best practices in administering elections in the new environment,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network.

Most election law changes were in effect in August, including a new residency requirement of 28 days (up from 10 days) and a requirement to sign the poll book before receiving a ballot. There was also a “soft implementation” of the new voter ID law, requiring poll workers to ask citizens to show an official photo ID, but not requiring voters to show an ID in order to obtain a regular ballot. Voters who did not show an eligible ID were to receive information about what kind of ID will be required for voting beginning in 2012.

The vast majority of observers were impressed by the diligence, knowledge and professionalism of the Chief Inspectors and poll workers they observed. However, they found some problem areas that need to be addressed before the 2012 elections, including:

• In almost a quarter of polling sites, officials were inconsistent in asking voters to show ID. This is in violation of the law. It is critically important to treat all citizens equally.

• Some voters produced photo IDs such as fishing licenses and employer IDs but were not informed these documents would not be valid as voting IDs in 2012. With the new law, Wisconsin has the most restrictive list of acceptable photo IDs for voting in the nation. If you do not have a valid Wisconsin driver license or state ID, check with your municipal clerk or the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board for other options.

• In several polling places, voters were incorrectly told to re-register if the address on their photo ID did not match the address on the poll list. In fact, it is not necessary for registered voters to have their current address on the official photo ID they use to obtain a ballot for voting. However, in order to register to vote (if you are not already registered) you will have to show proof of current residence. There is a somewhat broader list of documents that may be used for voter registration.

• In at least 4 locations, people were incorrectly told they would not be able to vote in 2012 if their driver license was expired. Actually the new law allows for licenses that have expired after the date of the last general election (November 2010).

• In at least 6 locations in different municipalities, the names of people who claimed they had voted at that location in either November 2010 or July 2011 were not on the voter lists. This demonstrates the need for Election Day Registration, which allows citizens to register at the poll on Election Day if, for any reason, their name is not on the voter list.

• Observers in 17% of polling sites noted problems experienced by disabled voters with the new requirement to sign the poll book. There are provisions in the law exempting the disabled from this requirement.

• Showing ID and signing the poll book slowed down the process and resulted in long lines in most locations for at least part of the day. This was true even in places that had not had this problem in previous elections. People waited in line in some locations up to an hour, and some voters left before being able to cast a ballot. To reduce or cope with long lines, some local officials drafted city workers to be additional poll workers or recruited observers to greet voters and direct them to the right line.

“It is clear that many municipal clerks will need to hire more poll workers for future elections because of the new requirements. This is an unfortunate and unneeded expense for local governments at a time when municipal services are being cut to save tax dollars,” Kaminski said.

The League made the following recommendations for election officials to prepare for the high turnout elections in 2012:

1. Provide more and better training for local election officials about the changes in election law.

2. Provide clear signage in polling places, showing citizens where to register to vote and where to check in and receive a ballot.

3. Split the poll books – one the first half of the alphabet and one for the second.

4. Hire more poll workers and assign one official to greet voters, answer general questions and direct them to the correct line.

5. Plan for glitches. Hold an election “dry run” to help anticipate what the problems might be and prepare to address them.

Read a copy of the League’s election observers report.

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