On April 5, when voters cast ballots in Wisconsin’s Republican and Democratic primaries, the state’s controversial voter ID bill will face its biggest test since Governor Scott Walker signed it into law in 2011. For the first time in a major election, citizens will be required to show approved forms of identification in order to vote. The law mandates that the state run a public-service campaign “in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election” to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable. But Wisconsin has failed to appropriate funds for the public education campaign. The result is that thousands of citizens may be turned away from the polls simply because they did not understand what form of identification they needed to vote. Wisconsin’s failure to fund these public-service ads comes after a clash between the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan agency responsible for producing voter education materials, and the Republican-controlled legislature. In October, the agency met with Republican State Senator Mary Lazich, who was a primary sponsor of the voter ID bill in 2011, to inquire after funding and received a tepid response.
The board told Lazich that it would need $300,000 to $500,000 from the state legislature to broadcast advertisements. The legislature had twice appropriated money for public information campaigns during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, but the ads barely hit the airwaves before court injunctions delayed the law from going into effect.
According to Kevin Kennedy, the board’s director and general counsel, Lazich thanked the board for the information, but didn’t make any promises. Lazich did not respond to requests for comment from ProPublica.
After the meeting, the Government Accountability Board decided against making a formal funding request to the legislature, which had already introduced a bill to dismantle the agency. “We weren’t sure we would have a receptive audience,” Kennedy told ProPublica.