Voters in Milwaukee overwhelmingly approved an advisory referendum Tuesday that backs the right to register at the polls on election day. With 97% of the units reporting, the measure was winning 73%-27%. A number of voter rights groups had backed putting the measure on the ballot in January, including Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, One Wisconsin Now and United Wisconsin. The Common Council, with Ald. Milele Coggs as the lead sponsor, approved the referendum on a 11-4 vote in mid-January. Before Tuesday’s vote, proponents of same-day voting were hoping for a large turnout and victory margin as a means of sending a message to Republican legislators not to fiddle with the law. It was unclear what Tuesday’s outcome will mean to the future of same-day registration. Nine members of the council doubled down this week, issuing a statement urging Milwaukee voters to express their opinion on same-day registration and voting.
Gov. Scott Walker has already indicated he is not in favor of ending the practice of same-day voting, particularly after a Government Accountability Board report said it would cost $5.2 million. He said he would not sign a bill even if it were passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Also, Wisconsin is exempt from provisions of federal election laws because it allows people to register at the polls. If the state ends election day registration, it would then have to require workers to give people a chance to register to vote when they get or renew driver’s licenses or access public benefits.
Same-day registration has proved to be popular statewide, but especially in Milwaukee. In November’s presidential election, one in five voters, an estimated 54,000 city residents, registered to vote on election day. During the June gubernatorial recall vote between Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett, some of the heaviest election-day registrations occurred on the Marquette University, Milwaukee School of Engineering and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campuses.