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Clerks say small-town poll workers may face shocked voters over new ID law

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Darryl Enriquez
May 28, 2011

In the small towns of Walworth and Rock counties, voters and poll workers usually know each other, their kids and their kin.


The friendly familiarity that clerks say has suppressed voter fraud might turn to hard feelings when photo identification becomes a voting requirement for the 2012 spring elections.


On the other hand, showing photo identification could prevent occasional misunderstandings by elderly, hard-of-hearing poll workers.


Clerks in Darien, Delavan and Edgerton expressed differing opinions on the voter identification law signed this week by Delavan alum Gov. Scott Walker.


Diane Hermann-Brown, Sun Prairie city clerk and president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association, is on record as saying that acquainting poll workers with the nuances of the new law would be a huge undertaking.


In small towns, the law’s effect on the folksy culture could be as much of an adjustment as its practical application, the three local clerks agreed.


“For smaller communities, it could be different because everyone knows everyone,” Edgerton Clerk Cinthia Hegglund said. “There would be a loss of community feel.


“I think it’s going to put more responsibility on voters. If they don’t have proper ID, they’ll be sent home to get it by someone who knows them.”


Darien Village Clerk-Treasurer Diana Dykstra said her poll workers posted signs during the spring election warning that photo IDs likely would be required in the next election.


An average fall election brings 350 to 400 voters to Darien’s sole polling place in village hall. The community of 1,614 residents has 890 registered voters.


Dykstra said as the clerk of another community she was confronted with a mistake by an elderly poll worker who had marked the wrong name and address in a voter registration book, possibly because the poll worker had misunderstood what she’d heard.


“Photo IDs can help in these types of situations,” Dykstra said. “It’s another step to making sure we have good, clean elections.”


Wisconsin joins about a half dozen other states that require photo IDs to vote. Democrats have opposed voter ID in Wisconsin.


Supporters say it will reduce voter fraud. Opponents say it discourages people from voting, especially college students, seniors, minorities and the disabled.


Clerks must learn what IDs are legal and how they should deal with voters who want to cast ballots but don’t have photo ID with them.


Acceptable identification cards include driver’s licenses, state IDs, military IDs, passports, naturalization papers or tribal IDs.


Problems also could arise is absentee voting, Hegglund said.


The law shortens the amount of time for in-person absentee voting at the clerk’s office from 30 days to two weeks, and it requires that mailed ballots include copies of voters’ photo IDs.


Hegglund said provisional ballots are proposed to resolve the issue. The measure requires voters to fill out ballots that are then separated from regular ballots until voters return with valid IDs.


Voter privacy likely would be compromised because designated poll officials would remove unverified ballots from sealed envelopes, mark them as verified and include them with ballots to be counted by hand.


“It’s not that I would share voting information with anyone, but the anonymity issue may come up,” she said.


Susan Kitzman, Delavan village clerk, said she has several concerns about the law.


“We get a lot of people who move and don’t correct their driver’s license,” she said. “How about a recently married woman who didn’t change her ID?”


Kitzman wondered about elderly people in nursing homes who cast absentee ballots. And what about those who spend winters in warmer climates? How will nursing home residents and snowbirds react to the mandate of sending copies of photo IDs, she asked.


“In these days of identity theft, I don’t like shipping that information around,” she said.


The state Division of Motor Vehicles offices will be a busy before Election Day as people scramble to get updated driver’s licenses, she said.



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