The Senate continues to debate legislation that would allow voters to register electronically.
Dems slammed SB 295, saying it would restrict the right to vote by moving up the deadline for absentee ballots and getting rid of special deputies who can be OK’d by local election clerks to spearhead registration drives.
Absentee ballots are now due to the clerk’s office the Friday after Election Day if postmarked by the Friday after the election. But the legislation would move that up to 8 p.m. on Election Day. The bill also would disqualify an absentee ballot if it was missing the address of the witness.
Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, noted changes at the U.S. Postal Service that in particular have impacted rural communities. Her mail, for example, is shipped to the Twin Cities and then rerouted back to Wisconsin.
She said some voters under the bill may go to the Post Office on the Friday before an election thinking they have plenty of time for their ballot to be turned in only to find out a delay disqualified their both. She questioned what the harm was of keeping the current deadline and suggested the aim of the legislation was to narrow the opportunity to vote.
“Isn’t the object of the game to get everybody to vote?” Bewley asked. “I truly believe the intent of this bill is to narrow opportunities, and that shouldn’t be what we’re about.”
Dems complained bitterly about the bill, including Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, suggesting Republicans were pushing it because they can’t win a fair election after dividing the state so badly.
But Republicans said that was an overreaction, particularly over the special registration deputies.
Under the bill, the GAB would have to maintain a secure online registration form. Those registering online would not have to provide proof of residence if their name, date of birth, and driver’s license or state ID card number can be matched with DOT records. Electronic registration would close at midnight on the third Wednesday before an election.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said that provision makes the registration deputies obsolete because it would allow anyone with a smart phone to register someone by allowing them to get on the GAB site and input their information.
“I’m amazed we’re getting this much discussion when all you’re doing is changing how registration will happen,” Fitzgerald said. “You’re not changing who or whether they can be registered. We’re not making it more difficult, but certainly we are being asked by both parties at the national level to adapt to the new technologies. That’s what this whole discussion is about.”
Other provisions include allowing federally issued veterans ID cards be used to meet the requirements of voter ID and requiring voters to re-register when they change names or addresses. Now, those registrations transfer.
The bill also would create a new system for collecting results on Election Night. County clerks would have to post all results to their sites no later than two hours after receiving them. The GAB also would have to provide a link on its site to those returns.