As part of our Wisconsin 2020 series, we’ve been asking you to tell us what you want to know about voting in Wisconsin. We received a lot of questions about voter suppression tactics and voting in general.
Patrick Marley covers politics and the Wisconsin statehouse for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He's here to help answer some of your voting questions:
When we're talking about voter suppression efforts, what are some of the things included in that term?
What qualifies as voter suppression is often in the eye of the beholder. There's been a lot of debate in Wisconsin over its voter ID law, which has been in place since what was passed in 2011. It was held up in court for quite a while. Marley says critics of that law would contend it is a form of voter suppression since it requires extra responsibilities to get to the polls.
Opponents of the voter roll purge, which may result in some people coming off of the rolls, would cast that as voter suppression. But supporters would say this is about election integrity and that it's about making sure that the voting rolls are clean. It really devolves into a political debate pretty quickly.
The fight over the voter roll purge is a bit confusing — what's happening?
In October, the Wisconsin Elections Commission sent letters to about 230,000 people who it believed had moved. It works with this group called ERIC, which a majority of states work with. It gathers data when people notify the post office that they're moving or register a vehicle at a new location. It then compiles the data, saying that it appears these people have moved because of interactions they've had with government agencies.
So, the state sent these letters to people saying, 'We believe you may have moved. Please contact us to either confirm your address is currently accurate or that you have moved and update your registration with your new address.' The Elections Commission's plan was to give people more than a year to respond to them, and then it was going to take people off the rolls if they hadn't either voted, confirmed their address or updated their registration. That would be in 2021 after the big presidential election. But there's a lawsuit by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that said people needed to come off the rules much quicker than that.
They argued that state law required people to come off the rules 30 days after the letters were sent. And that's been in the courts since there were was an initial ruling that would have required people to come off the voter rolls, but that was stayed by an appeals court and is now before an appeals court. So for the moment, no one has been pushed off the rolls.
While many states work with ERIC, no other state takes people off of the rolls as fast as would happen if this lawsuit succeeded. Marley says most states give four years before they take people off for having moved if they don't update their registrations.
How do you check if your voter registration has been removed?
You can check your current registration status and update your registration at: myvote.wi.gov. You have to put in your name and date of birth, and then you can see if you're registered and what address you're registered at. It will also include additional information if you are on the list of people who were sent letters in October.
If you have moved, you can use that site, in most cases, to update your voter registration and put in the correct address. If you're tagged as questioning whether you've moved and you haven't, you can also rectify that at myvote.wi.gov.
Why are people opposed to removing these names from the voter rolls?
If you move, you must update your voter registration. You need to be registered at the correct address so you go to the right polling place and you get the right ballot. Otherwise, you could show up at the wrong polling place, or you could go to the right polling place but get a ballot that's got race for state legislator or county supervisor for a district other than your own.
They send these letters because they want to make sure the voting rolls are as accurate as possible. And that's why the supporters say people should come off of the rolls if they haven't corrected their addresses.
The other side of it is that this data is pretty good, but it's going to have problems like any large data sets. Sometimes people decide they're going to register their vehicle at a business address and if they haven't actually moved, their voting status should say the same. But this data would pick up that the car was registered at a new location and flag them as having moved.
After a similar voter removal in 2017, Marley says Wisconsin election officials found that about 7% of the people on the list had not actually moved. So, opponents of purging people from the list say no one should be removed because of a bad data match, particularly someone who wouldn't suspect that they might be on this list because they hadn't moved and they wouldn't think of something like a vehicle registration is having affected their registration status.
We got a question from a listener saying when they changed their address with the DMV, they didn't get a new license. This is likely somebody who might end up on something like a mover list. Should they bring a utility bill to the polling site to prove their residency?
It would depend if you're registered at the correct address. While you don't need to prove your residency at the polls, all voters need to show a photo ID. But when it comes to voting purposes, your current address doesn't have to be on your ID.
However, registration is a bit different. If you register at the polls or whenever you register, you need to prove that you live where you say live. To do that you can use: your driver's license (if your address is current), a lease or mortgage document, or a utility bill. Here's a list of what else can be used for proof of residence.
How do you vote absentee?
In Wisconsin, you don't need a reason to absentee vote. All you have to do is contact your clerk and request to vote absentee, which you can do here.
If you vote by mail, make sure you send your absentee ballot in with enough time so that it gets there by Election Day.
There are some high school students who are 17 now, who will be 18 by the time of the general election. Are they able to vote in the primary?
No. You have to be 18 years old to vote in any Wisconsin election. So that person could vote in the general election because they'd be 18 by then, but they would not be able to vote in the primary leading into that because they wouldn't be 18 yet.
There are a lot of people who want to take photos with their ballot, but that's been illegal in Wisconsin for a long time. Is that going to change?
It's been a long standing requirement in Wisconsin that you can't take a photo of a ballot. Essentially, the rationale is that it was meant to prevent people from coming up with schemes to buy votes.
A lot of states have laws like Wisconsin. Some of those laws have been challenged in court, so some of the laws have been changing. There's an effort to change the law in Wisconsin, with legislation recently passing the state Senate and potentially coming before the state Assembly. But the legislative session is winding up very quickly, so it's unclear if it's going to pass.
So, you can't take a selfie in February. But maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to take that ballot selfie in November.
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