Gov. Scott Walker has joined one of the Legislature’s most powerful Republicans in saying he’s considering ending the state’s same-day voter registration law, drawing quick criticism from leading Democrats, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The idea was part of the agenda that Walker put forward Friday in an appearance before a sold-out crowd at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum near Los Angeles, a traditional venue for Republicans looking to run for president.
Wisconsin is one of nine states that allow voters to register at their polling place on the day of the election, and that’s often credited with helping make Wisconsin’s voting rate one of the highest in the country. Since the Nov. 6 election, both Walker and incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have said they’re considering ending the practice, which goes back to 1976 in the state.
“States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13-hour days and who in most cases are retirees,” Walker said at the library, responding to a question from an audience member about election safeguards. “It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done.”
The comments drew a harsh reaction from Democrats such as Barrett and state Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate. Democratic candidates tend to perform better in presidential election years such as this one, when less frequent voters such as minorities and the young show up at the polls in larger numbers.
In the city of Milwaukee, for instance, 48,000 voters, or 17% of the total, registered to vote on the day of the Nov. 6 election, according to the city election commission. That helped boost turnout in the city to a whopping 87%.
Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Neil Albrecht said in an email that the state should take pride in its high voting rates. He said changes to the registration law would affect young people and renters the most.