State News

Democrats introduce bill to automatically register citizens to vote amid study that found the state’s voter ID law prevented thousands from voting

Democratic lawmakers proposed a bill Tuesday that would automatically register Wisconsinites to vote.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Between 17,000 to 23,000 registered voters were prevented from casting a ballot in Madison and Milwaukee during the last presidential election, according to a recent study. On Tuesday, Democratic state legislators introduced a bill to enact automatic voter registration across the state to boost political participation.

The study, conducted by UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer, concluded that between approximately 17,000 and 23,000 registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties, both heavy Democratic strongholds, were prevented from casting ballots in the election due to current state law.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law had been held up in court for years, but was in effect last year, when President Donald Trump won the state by about 23,000 votes.

“While the total number affected in Milwaukee and Dane Counties is smaller than the margin of victory in the 2016 presidential election, that is the wrong measure,” Mayer stated in a press release. “An eligible voter who cannot vote because of the ID law is disenfranchised, and that in itself is a serious harm to the integrity to the electoral process.”

Proponents of the law argue it is a necessity to protect the integrity of the voting process from fraud.

“Amongst us, who would be that one person who would like to have their vote canceled by someone voting illegally?” asked Walker, in a debate during his last re-election campaign.

Republican legislatures have passed stringent voter ID laws around the country, raising alarms for those who fear they would disproportionately impact low-income and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic.

Current law requires citizens to show a driver's license, passport or other valid government photo ID before voting, all of which the aforementioned voters are much less likely to possess.

Out-of-state students are heavily impacted by these restrictions, as only two institutions in the UW System, UW-Green Bay and UW-Superior, currently allows student IDs to meet the state’s eligibility standards.

Student activists are currently working to change that.

“We’re starting to work on a Wisconsin residents campaign to protest their legislators and fight for their out-of-state friends to get the Wiscard qualifiable for voting eligibility,” said Laurel Noack, a student vote ambassador for the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

Student vote ambassadors met with Chancellor Rebecca Blank this week but were pessimistic about resolving the issue from an administrative standpoint.

“Administration wise, we're not gonna get anywhere, so we're gonna focus on legislators,” said Noack.

State legislatures across the country have passed similar voter ID laws, but several states are having the legislation contested in court, including Wisconsin.

Earlier this year, a federal judge threw out a similar law in Texas, claiming the law was enacted with “discriminatory intent.”

In Wisconsin, state Reps. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, and Terese Berceau, D-Madison, have introduced legislation to automatically register eligible Wisconsinites. The bill comes in celebration of National Voter Registration Day and in response to low voter turnout in 2016.

The bill would combine the Department of Transportation’s database with that of the State Election Commission’s to create a comprehensive electronic voter registration system.

After an election with historically low turnout, a handful of states are considering similar measures to increase political participation.

Oregon was the first to pass such a law in 2015 and saw an additional 225,000 citizens register to vote under the new system.

10 states have approved measures to move towards automatic registration, while over a dozen others have proposed legislation in the works.

UPDATE: This article previously stated that no institutions in the UW System provided a state-eligible ID. It was corrected to say UW-Green Bay and UW Superior have modified their student IDs to meet eligibility standards. 

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