As if Wisconsin needed another debate to divide its citizens, the voting wars are coming to Madison. The state Senate last week passed four measures, three almost exclusively on party-line votes, to make minor changes to election day procedures.
One measure would require two poll workers of opposite party affiliation to oversee securing ballot containers. Another would require any job that needed two or more poll workers to be performed by members of different parties. A third bill would mandate damaged or problem ballots be marked in a uniform manner.
And a bill that is likely to cause the most outrage among Democrats would require election workers to record the type of documents newly registered voters use as proof of residence. That bill passed the Senate on a straight 18-15 party-line vote.
The new rules are relatively minor tweaks to the state’s election rules, a far cry from a law requiring voters to show identification at the polling place the Republican House and Senate passed back in 2011. That law was blocked by a state judge, a decision that’s being appealed in federal court.
The fact that even the smallest changes to state law come down to party-line votes highlights the partisan divide in a state that’s accustomed to compromise. Democrats see the Republican-initiated changes as the first step toward more regulations that will make it harder for their voters to cast a ballot.
Voting rights have “been an ongoing dispute between the parties going all the way back to voter ID, and there’s just very little trust,” said Kenneth R. Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The view among Democrats … is that these bills are either unnecessary or wasteful,” Mayer said. “The general view among Republicans is that the election system is unsecured.”
“It’s part of a larger issue in Wisconsin, and it’s part of a sustained effort by Republicans here to make it harder for people to vote, and really make it harder for Democrats to vote,” said Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party. “We have a history here in Wisconsin of very high turnout, very high voter participation. We haven’t had problems across the board with irregularities and fraud. They’re trying to say we do.”
State Sen. Mary Lazich (R), who sponsored all four bills, didn’t return e-mails and calls requesting comment. She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the measures would help Wisconsin avoid “sloppy” practices on display in a 2012 recall that resulted in a Democrat ousting a Republican in Racine County.
The Wisconsin state assembly is likely to take up the voting rules later this year. Republicans hold a huge 60-39 advantage in the assembly.