Letting voters register at polls makes sense

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Paul Malischke
Thursday, November 29, 2012

For 36 years, Wisconsin has had Election Day voter registration. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported Nov. 19 that 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 re-affirmed the value of Election Day registration. The board 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 upon municipal clerks and pollworkers should same-day registration be eliminated.

Because of same-day registration, Wisconsin is exempt from the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, often called “motor voter.” The accountability board determined that Wisconsin and the local municipalities have saved untold millions of dollars because of this exemption. Without the exemption, many non-election 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 Election Day registration, 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 more than 50,000 provisional ballots, and one-quarter to one-third went uncounted.

The accountability board’s report provided data that the majority of voters who use Election Day registration do so to update their names or addresses. It also pointed out that all registrants must show proof of residence and that the list of identifying documents is almost identical to the type of identification set out in the federal Help America Vote Act.

Rigorous academic studies have shown that the lofty goals of the 1976 legislation have been met. In a 2011 study, Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor, wrote: “In study after study using a variety of different methodologies, scholars have come to the same basic conclusion: Election Day registration lowers the cost of voting for many Americans and increases overall turnout.”

This is the bottom line for those who believe our state is stronger, our nation is stronger, and our form of government is stronger when more people participate.

Paul Malischke is spokesman for Fair Elections Wisconsin (fairelectionswi.org), 4825 Bayfield Terrace, Madison WI 53705; phone 608-238-8976; email malischke@yahoo.com.

Last updated: 7:55 am Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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