Wisconsin clerks prepare for April 3 primary
On-again, off-again voter ID law, other issues complicate prep
Election years are busy for everyone who works in the field of election administration, but for the city and county clerks in Wisconsin, 2012 is presenting a new set of challenges in addition to regular preparations.
“It has been an interesting four months preparing for our presidential preference primary on April 3rd,” said Kathy Nickolaus, Waukesha County clerk. “We have had new statutory requirements on the administration of elections, new rules from the Government Accountability Board and also laws that no longer were required and I am speaking specifically about the Voter photo ID law, which was ruled unconstitutional.”
At the forefront of this is the state’s on-again, off-again voter ID law. Currently the law is not in effect following injunctions by two judges. But that could all change before polls open on April 3 so clerks are preparing for every scenario.
“We have trained clerks, who have then trained election inspectors, for both having to provide ID and not having to provide it. They will be able to handle whichever is in effect on election day,” said Karen Peters, clerk for Dane County.
On Wednesday, the Court of Appeals certified both pending voter ID cases to the Supreme Court, which according to Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the GAB, could rule before 7a.m. on April 3.
Kennedy said that his office has done extensive communications to municipal and county clerks to keep them apprised of the latest developments.
In Rusk County, the changes have meant additional dollars in already tight budget times.
“It has caused us to back track on a lot of things, we've had to change our training materials for election workers making the election process even more costly then it already is,” said Denise Wetzel, Rusk County clerk. “We've had to try and do press releases to keep the public informed, change information on many different web pages, pull publications, etc. that also leads to added cost of wages for people to do all this. “
According to Ginny Dankmeyer, the clerks in her county used 2011 to prepare for 2012.
“We had several elections last year when our poll workers asked for the ID during the soft implmentation. So to go back to not having to ask is minor. Not knowing if the injunction will be overturned before the April election is probably more of a concern.” Dankmeyer, La Crosse County clerk said. “The biggest issue is the confusion it is causing with the public. We worked hard to make sure they were educated and informed on this new law only to have it reversed. We are getting calls asking for clarification on the injunction and what parts the injunction affects.”
Nickolaus noted that although preparations for the upcoming election did not change much after the ruling against the photo ID requirement, she echoed Dankmeyer’s concerns about the impact it may have on voters.
“I believe voters which had an election in February — when voter photo ID was required — may become frustrated with the on-again/off-again requirements,” Nickolaus said. “In the portion of Waukesha County that had an election in February only one person forgot their photo ID and voted provisionally.”
For the clerks in Milwaukee County, while the change in voter ID law has played a role in preparations, other factors like redistricting and new bilingual requirements have added additional work this cycle.
“It was more time-consuming determining ballot styles based on the recent redistricting due to the fact that most of the voter data bases have not yet been updated reflecting the new districts,” said Lisa Catlin Weiner, administrator of elections for Milwaukee County. “Also, it took additional time to prepare the City of Milwaukee's ballot as they are now required to provide ballots in both English and Spanish based on the recent census results.”
And once the clerks get through the April 3 primary, it’s not over. In addition to the November general election, there are several recall elections on the horizon including a statewide gubernatorial recall tentatively slated for June.
“With all the changes back and forth this has been an extremely busy time for the clerks and I feel they deserve much more credit than they are getting for all their hard work and dedication,” Peters of Dane County said. “They are truly amazing.”