Election officials across Wisconsin are bracing for a difficult transition as the state rushes into place new rules for voting signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker Wednesday — including a controversial measure requiring voters to use photo IDs. Passage of the controversial law, which has been discussed by Republicans for more than a decade, means those charged with enforcing it have just under two months to develop and implement the training needed to handle polls in the coming recall elections.
“This will be a huge undertaking, to get everything and everybody ready,” said Diane Hermann-Brown, Sun Prairie city clerk and president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association. “We still have questions about how this will work.”
… The Wisconsin measure, which could cost the state as much as $7.5 million to execute, has long divided Republicans and Democrats. Supporters contend it will cut down on voter fraud and say it’s reasonable to expect the same level of scrutiny for voting as for cashing checks, renting cars or using credit cards. Opponents say it is a solution without a problem. They fear it discourages people from voting, especially college students, seniors, minorities and people with disabilities.
But such philosophical arguments matter little to the state’s 1,851 clerks, who are now tasked with enforcing the law. For most of them, the next few months will be spent learning which IDs are legal, what options voters will have if they don’t have an ID and how to deal with the likely increase in provisional ballots.
… The photo ID component goes into effect for the spring 2012 primary, but the residency requirement — as well as some other educational components — goes into effect immediately. Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Government Accountability Board, said this means a lot of work needs to get done in short order. The first of several expected recall elections have been tentatively set for July 12. GAB is developing a plan for training poll workers on the fly. Officials are also working on educational literature that will be made available to voters.
… GAB is planning a longer-term educational campaign that will include a media component. Officials estimate it will cost more than $500,000 for billboards and ads, and another $150,000 for public outreach. Those numbers square with similar campaigns in other states. Georgia, which passed photo ID in 2007, spent $850,000 in education and outreach. But none of that is expected to occur before the recall elections take place.
… Another area where Hermann-Brown expects problems is absentee voting. The new law shortens the amount of time for in-person absentee voting at the clerk’s office from 30 days down to two weeks. It will also require voters mailing in ballots to include a copy of their photo ID. “Some will forget,” she said. “Some just won’t know. Either way, there will be confusion. And the confusion will lead to longer lines and longer waits.”