For 36 years, Wisconsin has had election day voter registration. Gov. Scott Walker, in a recent speech in California, advocated ending election day registration. The 1976 legislation establishing it states: “The Legislature finds that the vote is the single most critical act in our democratic system of government.” It further states: “Therefore, pursuant to the policy of this state and nation to ensure all people the right to vote, the Legislature finds it imperative to expand voter registration procedures.” In March of 2011 the nonpartisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board unanimously reaffirmed the value of election day registration (EDR). They based this not only on the convenience provided to voters, but also the financial savings to state and local governments, and the extra burden that would be placed on municipal clerks and poll workers should EDR be eliminated.
Because of EDR, Wisconsin is exempt from the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, often called “motor voter.” The GAB determined that Wisconsin and local municipalities have saved untold millions of dollars because of this exemption. Without the exemption, many nonelection agencies would bear costs related to voter registration, and municipalities would bear extra costs in maintaining voter registration lists.
Provisional ballots are one of the more complex and time-consuming tasks for poll workers, municipal clerks, and voters. In 2008, Wisconsin had only 211 provisional ballots in the entire state. Without EDR Wisconsin would be required to issue tens of thousands of provisional ballots to voters who otherwise would have been able to register. Provisional ballots require substantial work for the municipal clerk after the election. In states such as Maryland and Washington, in 2008 there were over 50,000 provisional ballots, and one-quarter to one-third went uncounted.