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Voters facing earlier 2012 primary

By   /   March 28, 2011  /   No Comments

By Kevin Lee     Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON  — Wisconsin voters preparing for a politically loaded 2012 election period should be ready to adjust their calendars.

Lawmakers are trying to schedule all even-year statewide primary elections, held in the second Tuesday of September, at least a month earlier.

The change stems from a federal law approved in October 2009 that requires states to give military and overseas voters more time to receive, consider and submit their absentee ballots.

Under the Military and Overseas Empowerment Act, known as the MOVE Act, local election officials would have to send ballots overseas no closer than 45 days before a federal election upon request.

During the 2010 election, Wisconsin election administrators were constrained by the Sept. 14 state primary election and could not distribute official ballots overseas within that 45-day time frame.

The federal government and the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the state agency that administers elections, settled in court on provisions for that election period that would allow additional time for both election administrators and overseas voters.

But with 2012 coming up, the Wisconsin GAB has recommended lawmakers permanently change the state primary election date for even-numbered years, when federal elections are held, to comply with the MOVE Act provisions.

The changes “will get done this year,” according to state Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, the chair of the Senate Transportation and Elections Committee,

Lawmakers have other electoral changes they are considering, including Voter ID legislation and a proposal to move the presidential primary from February to April so Wisconsin has more influence in the presidential race.

But the earlier statewide primary date “is the one issue that the federal government has weighed in on” with respect to elections, said state Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Election and Campaign Reform.

A change in the state partisan primary would set off a chain of other necessary changes, according to recent GAB documents.

The deadline for nomination papers, GAB certification of candidates and delivery of ballots to local election officials would have to be adjusted to accommodate the new primary date.

GAB also would have to consider contingency plans in the case of a recall or legal challenge, which could further delay the delivery of ballots to long-distance voters.

Lazich said she preferred the second Tuesday of August to minimize the adjustment to voters and elected officials.

“People in Wisconsin have not been in favor of long election periods, and stretching it out risks drawing the ire of the public,” she said. “Any earlier and we risk backing the primary election into the legislative schedule as well.”

State Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, said an earlier primary date may prompt more campaigning during the fall.

“It lengthens the time of elections, it means campaigns become more expensive, and these are all of the things that are the worst aspects of our political system,” he said.

Both Lazich and Tauchen said lawmakers were working on drafting legislation to change the primary date. They could not give an exact time when legislation from their respective chambers would be introduced.