Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Proceed cautiously with early voting

Photo ID, Legislation

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) is recommending Wisconsin expand voting by mail before it explores voting by telephone, the Internet, or other options. Wisconsin is considering various plans to expand early voting procedures.

The GAB held a listening session on early voting at West Allis City Hall on July 23, 2009. I was invited by the GAB to attend and here is the testimony I delivered:

Good afternoon, members of the Government Accountability Board. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Government Accountability Board about possible expansion of early voting procedures in Wisconsin

Allowing voters to cast their ballots prior to Election Day is a phenomenon that has become quite popular across the country. Inherent advantages are clear. The more voters that vote early, the smoother the process will be at the polls. The average poll worker nationally is 72 years old. Early voting also provides a certain comfort level for voters.

However, the Government Accountability Board, in its own report during March of this year admits there are drawbacks. The Board cited a Caltech/MIT report that raised worries about absentee and mail-in voting including the potential for voters being coerced because privacy could be compromised, for example, by family or staff at a nursing home. There are also concerns about mail security and voter fraud. The possibility of uncounted, unmarked, or spoiled absentee ballots was also mentioned in the report.

Some studies, according to the GAB, also suggest in-person early voting increases turnout only slightly, if at all. Florida experienced numerous technical problems with its optical scan machines used during 2004. Early vote centers in the Sunshine State have experienced long lines and emergency extension of voting hours.

Then there is the cost. The GAB says, “Early voting will cost more. It is very difficult to generalize how much it costs, because different states pay poll workers different amounts, have different hours, and a different number of locations. One study found that ‘early voting required considerably more staffing than traditional precinct voting’. States and localities with outmoded voting machines may have to purchase new ones capable of processing dozens or hundreds of different ballot styles. Studies confirm that early in-person voting and liberalized absentee balloting do not clearly result in cost saving.”

Another concern, if the state switched to regional district voting, is the profound impact on Wisconsin's system of municipality-controlled elections.

I urge the Board to proceed cautiously before adopting any major changes. Above all, I strongly recommend serious consideration be given to our dedicated clerks. 

A few legislative sessions ago, I served on the Senate Labor and Election Process Reform Committee that toured the state, conducting public hearings.  The clerks and poll workers that offered their valuable expertise specifically requested that the hard work they do on Election Day be accurate. They work very long days and must depend on the communications of all citizens.

That is why a far loftier and commendable goal for the Board would be to endorse and then work with the Legislature to enact a photo ID requirement for voting. An identification in written form allows clerks and poll workers to facilitate citizen communication, speed long lines, and maintain accuracy. Poll workers truly want a democratic process in place. I recall poll workers testifying passionately that they want their work to be accurate and be respected. They testified that a written communication such as driver license or other identification allows them to confidently perform tasks with accuracy and maintain a voting process in Wisconsin that gives the public confidence and erases concerns and bickering. 

The highly acclaimed, nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau released an audit dated November 28, 2007 recommending, “The Elections Board and, after it is replaced, the Government Accountability Board request that municipal clerks obtain birth dates from voters during future elections and consider ways to more easily facilitate the collection of this information.”  That is a strong and clear message that the state should adopt this common sense election reform measure that the voting public has been clamoring for.

Expanding early voting has the potential of catching on and becoming popular. However, if such a system were to be implemented, every precaution must be taken to prevent fraud. As for me, one of the best changes we could and should make to our election process is to require a photo ID to vote.

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