(CN) – Despite predictions that turnout for Wisconsin’s April 5 presidential primaries will be the highest in nearly four decades, officials are confident reliance on the state’s much-litigated voter photo ID requirement will be relatively trouble free.
The law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, was in effect for the state’s nonpartisan spring primary in February 2012, but not the presidential primary in April of that year. Courts enjoined enforcement of the law in March 2012.
In Wisconsin, nonpartisan primaries are held for for various state and local elective positions, such as circuit court judge. In 2012, less than 20 percent of registered voters turned out out to express a preference in that contest.
This year, the state’s Government Accountability Board is expecting more than twice as many Wisconsin residents to make their way to the polls.
“Lines will be a little longer than usual in a presidential primary because the new photo ID requirement adds some time to each voter’s check-in,” accountability board spokesman Reid Magney told Courthouse News. “However, Wisconsin has an average wait time of 8.2 minutes, according to the Pew Center’s Election Performance Index.
” Not the shortest lines in the country, but certainly nowhere near the longest of 30 minutes-plus minutes you see in places like the District of Columbia and Florida,” he said.
And nowhere near the five hour-plus lines voters encountered during Maricopa County, Ariz.’s epic fail at what should have been a routine presidential primary election just over a week ago.
Primary voters in Arizona’s most populous county were stunned on March 22 to show up to cast their ballot and be confronted with lines like they’d never seen before. The cause was a decision by Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to cut the number of polling places by 70 percent from 200 down to 60.
The result as morning dawned on primary day in Arizona was that there was only one polling place for every 108,000 Phoenix residents.
Initially, Purcell blamed the voters for the long lines, saying in effect, that if fewer had wanted to vote, the reduction in polling places would not have been a problem.
She later attempted to walk back those comments amid a firestorm that included calls for investigations and her resignation saying “we certainly made bad decision, and … didn’t anticipate there would be that many people going to the polling places.
“We were obviously wrong and that’s my fault,” she said, adding, “I will not resign.”
In the aftermath of the Arizona contest, Sen. Bernie Sanders called the long lines a “disgrace.”
“In the United States of America, democracy is the foundation of our way of life,” the Democrat said. “What happened in Arizona is a disgrace. I hope that every state in this country learns from that and learns how to put together a proper election where people can come in and vote in a timely manner and go back to work.”
With Arizona imbroglio still very much on people’s minds, Magney said the accountability board is “not aware of any major changes in polling places,” adding that the number of polling places in the state is determined by Wisconsin’s 1,853 municipal clerks.
Which brings us back to voter photo ID law.
Wisconsin is one of nine states that have implemented strict new photo ID requirements in recent years. Valid forms of Voter ID in the Badger State now include a Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID; a tribal ID, university, college, or technical college ID; a certificate of naturalization; a U.S. passport; or a U.S. uniform services card.
Under the law exceptions are made for absentee voters who are active-duty military and for those who have a hard time getting to the polls because of age, illness, infirmity or disability.
Thirty-three states now have some form of voter ID requirement, but they vary in their details. A total of 19 states required voters to present photo identification, while 14 accepted other forms of identification.
In Virginia, for instance, voters must present identification at the polls or else cast a provisional ballot. Valid ID in the state includes a Virginia voter registration card, a driver’s license issued by the state, military ID, any federal, state or local government-issued ID, an employer-issued photo ID card, a concealed handgun permit or a student ID from any higher education institution in Virginia.
Voters can also show non-photo ID everything from a paycheck or government-issued check with the voter’s name and address on it, or a utility bill, but this again allows them only to cast a provisional ballot which by law will only be counted with the voter shows elections official a proper photo ID by noon on the Friday after an election.
Much more lenient is a state like California, where voters are required to provide a driver’s license number or state identification number at the polls, but do not have to present a physical form of identification. If a voter does not have a driver’s license or state ID, he may provide the last four digits of his Social Security number. Failing that, the state will assign the voter a unique number that can be used for casting a ballot.
In New York, where primary voters will go to the polls on April 19, there is no requirement to show identification at the polls.
Then there’s North Carolina, which adds a unique wrinkle to the mix, allowing a registered voter to challenge the identity and eligibility of any voter casting a ballot in the same county.
The adoption of Wisconsin’s Voter ID law was not without controversy, and the legal wrangling it inspired roiled state and federal courts until last year.
Seventeen voters represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other state officials in 2011, challenging the then-new law. They argued that the law “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax for eligible Wisconsin voters” because of the fees required for some voters to get identification.
Some voters claimed they would never be able to obtain acceptable identification documents, which include a Wisconsin driver’s license, a DMV-issued state ID card, a U.S. uniformed service ID card, a passport, a recent naturalization certificate or an unexpired identification card issued by an accredited Wisconsin university or college.
The litigating voters sought an injunction “allowing persons to vote at their polling place without presenting an ID but instead by signing an affidavit attesting to their identity and to the difficulties they would face in obtaining ID,” according to court records.
A Wisconsin appeals court upheld the legislation in 2013, finding that the requirement to show photo IDs at the polls did not violate the state’s constitution. After that, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the state can enforce the voter ID law during the November 2014 elections.
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the law in place.
Jim Miller, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Field Services, said that between July 1, 2011, when the law was first enacted, and Feb. 16, 2016, the last date for which statistics are available, the state had issued 440,641 photo ID cards.
“This includes originals, renewals and replacement or duplicate cards,” he said.
Miller said the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency tasked with making free photo IDs available to the public, typically issues between 3,000 and 4,500 new cards per month.
In January, the number of photo IDs issued skewed toward the bottom end of the range, with only 3,027 issued, but in early February, after the start of the presidential primary season, the number was already on the rise, with 3,961 issued.
The accountability board’s Reid Magney said in order to smooth the transition to the new ID requirement, the states has engaged in a comprehensive public education program.
This has included public service announcements distributed to every television and radio station in the state, and public service print ads provided to every Wisconsin newspaper.
He admitted, however, that because use of the ads in voluntary, the accountability board has no way of knowing how often those advertisements have been used. He noted that two counties, Dane and Milwaukee, have made specific ad buys to make sure the ads are used in those markets. Elsewhere, how often the ad have aired or appeared is unclear.
Magney said the board has a much better handle on the infiltration of its online public awareness campaign, an effort that include a dedicated “Bring It To The Ballot” website, and numerous videos posted on the board’s YouTube channel.
Since going live on Jan. 1, 2016, the “Bring It To The Ballot” website has had more than 38,000 unique visits and more than 88,000 page views.
The videos on the board’s YouTube page have been view from 541 to 1,613 times.
If the predictions for the size of the April 5 turnout hold true, it would be the highest turnout in a Wisconsin presidential primary since 1980.
A 40 percent turnout would translate into about 1.75 million of the state’s 4.44 million eligible voters. In the 1980 presidential primary, 45 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
Accountability board Director Kevin Kennedy, the state’s highest-ranking election official, has said he expects Donald Trump to bring many new voters to the polls, to vote for and against him.
“We also expect the battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to continue to generate interest in the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary,” Kennedy said.
- Lawmakers Probe Bullet-Train Switcheroo
- UC System Put Profits Ahead of |In-State Admissions, Audit Finds