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New year brings voter changes

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
January 6, 2012
— Voting in Wisconsin changes drastically this year. A new state law means restrictions and requirements that voters have never seen before.

"Nine out of 10 voters are going to be just fine," when it comes to the new law that requires a photo ID at the polls, said Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler. "Most people will show up and flash a driver's license or flash a passport."


But studies nationwide have shown that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have a government-issued photo ID, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.


Percentages are higher among seniors, people of color, those with disabilities or with low incomes and students.


So you might want to double-check now to make sure you have what you need under Wisconsin's new requirements for voter-ID, registration and absentee voting.


And voting starts soon with the spring primary Feb. 21. The spring nonpartisan local elections are April 3, and the state's presidential preference primary has been moved—it also will be April 3.


The fall primary used to be in September, but this year it's Aug. 14. The fall Election Day is Nov. 6.


Recall elections also are possible, for the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, Stottler said.


Your ID

Registered voters now must bring proof of identity to the polls and sign the poll book.


The most commonly used IDs will be a Wisconsin driver license, a state ID card or a United States military ID card or passport, Stottler said.


These four IDs are valid even if they expired after the most recent general election, which was Nov. 2, 2010. Note the word "after."


Four other kinds of photo ID also are acceptable if they have not expired: a certificate of naturalization, a receipt for a driver's license or state ID card issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, an ID issued by a federally recognized Wisconsin Indian tribe, or a photo ID issued by a Wisconsin university or college that meets certain requirements and is accompanied by proof of enrollment.


Many Wisconsin colleges and universities are issuing special student ID cards that comply with the new law. A few colleges are modifying existing student ID cards.


Students should check with their school to make sure their ID qualifies, Stottler said.


Photo IDs do not need to include a current address.


"Also, the name on your photo ID does not have to match your name on the poll list exactly, so Jim is perfectly acceptable for James, Sue for Susan, etc.," Stottler said.


Those with no state driver's license or state ID card can apply for a free state ID card from the local Division of Motor Vehicles office.


Registration

Considering that the polling process might be slower as officials and voters adjust to the new rules, getting registered in advance is a good idea, said Dave Godek, deputy clerk/treasurer for the city of Janesville.


If you register more than 20 days before an election, you do not have to show proof of residence. This is because there would be enough time for clerks to check your information on their databases, Stottler said.


You must live at your address for 28 consecutive days to be eligible to vote. Ten days was the previous cutoff.


Check with your municipal clerk for registration requirements.


Absentee voting

Voters must present a photo ID for in-person absentee voting at their clerk's office.


The period for in-person absentee voting has been shortened. It now begins the third Monday before the election and ends at 5 p.m. or at the close of business, whichever is later, the Friday before the election.


Previously, in-person absentee voting could occur until 5 p.m. the Monday before.


Mail-in absentee voters must provide a photocopy of their photo ID card with their absentee ballot request.


Voters who fax or email their municipal clerk to request an absentee ballot can return a photocopy of their photo ID with their completed ballot, but only for the February election.


After the Feb. 21 election, only military and overseas voters can request and receive ballots via email or fax.


Additionally, 2012 is the start of the new redistricting boundaries that could affect where you vote and for whom you vote.


New maps will be published, or visit vpa.wi.gov.

Stottler said even those who come prepared to vote might be slowed down by someone ahead of them in line who did not prepare.


"We are doing all we can to make it an enjoyable experience to do your civic duty and participate in democracy," Stottler said. "I'm doing all I can to make that happen, but it still is not going to be without its minor pains."


To learn more


For more information on how new state voting laws affect you:


-- Contact your local municipal clerk's office.


-- Contact your county clerk's office. In Rock County, call (608) 757-5660 or visit www.co.rock.wi.us/countyclerk. In Walworth County, call (262) 741-4241 or visit click here.

-- Visit the Government Accountability Board's s Voter ID website at http://gab.wi.gov, and click "Voter Photo ID."


-- Click here for information on getting a state ID card.

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