Don’t look now, but an ongoing battle over how Wisconsinites vote opened on a new front. After signing into law a series of changes to how state elections are run, Gov. Scott Walker said he was considering doing away with election-day registration – or EDR, as its known – the practice of letting voters register on the same day they vote. Walker has since backed away from that idea, pointing to a Government Accountability Board report that showed doing away with EDR would be costly. But it would be a mistake for other reasons as well, one that runs contrary to our state’s fine traditions and will add an unnecessary barrier to voting. The concerns the governor raised about EDR actually would become much worse if it were eliminated.
It was more than a generation ago that Wisconsin became one of the first states to allow voters to register at the polls on election day. EDR has been an option for Wisconsinites since the 1976 presidential election. Since that time, we have had 16 years with Democratic governors and 22 years with Republican governors and fairly even partisan control of the state Legislature. No administration or Legislature has seriously considered getting rid of EDR. It has been a great success and over the past generation has effectively been woven into the state’s political DNA.
Walker claimed that EDR placed too much of a burden on clerks and poll workers. We have studied how elections work in Wisconsin and can offer some insights.
A significant majority of the 1,381 clerks who responded to questions on EDR acknowledge that it creates some additional work, but they believe it is worth it. Indeed, about two-thirds of clerks indicated that they felt that EDR is a voter’s right and that it increases turnout. The views of clerks on EDR could be best summarized by one who said “Yeah, it is a little time consuming, but it’s all for a good cause; I understand that.”
With EDR, a disagreement at the polls about a voter’s registration can be resolved on the spot. This has permitted Wisconsin largely to avoid problems other states face. Without EDR, a voter who misses the registration deadline or whose address or name has changed would have to cast a provisional ballot. These provisional voters must return to the clerk’s office after the election to provide proper identification. Then clerks and poll workers have to spend days trying to verify the ballots. This is part of the reason that vote counting has taken so long in states such as Florida, Arizona and California. And voters should be worried that the provisional ballot they cast will often not be counted. Nationwide, almost 40% of provisional ballots were not even counted in 2008.
Dropping EDR also would mean that the state would have to implement federal “motor voter” requirements to register citizens when they renew their driver’s licenses. These federal rules will bring their own set of burdens and financial costs.
Full Article: Election-day registration works here.