Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker endorsed the Republican legislature’s efforts to end same day voter registration in his home state. Wisconsin is currently one of nine states in the country to have same day voter registration, a measure which is credited with producing traditionally high voter turnout.
Wisconsin has had same day voter registration since 1976, but Walker stated same day voter registration poses problems to safeguarding elections. He noted that,
“States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13-hour days and who in most cases are retirees. It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done.”
His statements produced backlash across the state, however, particularly among Democrats. Alderman Ashanti Hamilton was one of many who spoke out strongly against the governor. He claimed that the governor was taking away Wisconsin voters’ fundamental rights, stating that,
“If a man was to threaten someone else with bodily harm or death in this country, that man would be arrested, charged with any number of crimes and likely jailed. But I’ve found myself wondering, in light of recent events, that if the Governor of Wisconsin threatens to take away our residents’ most fundamental rights – rights for which Americans have risked their bodies and even laid down their lives – then should not our Governor also be arrested and jailed?””
In Milwaukee, the outcry was swift as well. Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran twice against Scott Walker (in both the general election and a recall) joined the African-American Civic Engagement Roundtable, Neil Albrecht, the Executive Director of Milwaukee’s Election Commission, Representatives Sandy Pasch, Jon Richards, and other community partners to protest the proposal. He held a press conference asking the governor to stay away from same day registration, arguing it helps protect high voter turnout and needs to remain intact.
Milwaukee reported an astounding 87% turnout the past presidential election, with over 56,000 voters registering the same day, making up almost 19% of total voters in the city.
After an outpouring of criticism, Walker attempted to deflect attention from his original position; he would sign any bill eliminating same day registration. He stated that his priority was not to reform voting registration, but rather to improve the economy of the state and create jobs for constituents.
However, this measure appears to be part of a larger movement to change voting laws in the name of voter protection. In some cases, these measures appear to make it harder for certain populations to vote. Earlier this year, Republicans attempted to require a voter ID for the first time in Wisconsin history, which could potentially bar certain demographics from voting.
The initiative was ultimately struck down by the Dane County Circuit Court, which ruled the law requiring otherwise eligible voters to present a government-issued photo identification before being allowed to cast their ballots was an unconstitutional burden. The Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to hear the case before the November 6 elections, despite the Attorney General’s petitions.
Whether same day voter registration will end in Wisconsin is yet to be seen, but the Republican legislature will have a majority in both state houses after the January inauguration, and barring a Walker veto that appears unlikely, they seem poised to implement the restriction.