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Voter ID uncertainty adds to WI election clerks' frustration

By   /   March 8, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — When politicians, interest groups and judges start bickering over election legalities — from voter ID to recalls — the fallout lands squarely at Doris Dahl’s door.

“It’s just mind-boggling, I guess, all the changes and the waste of money we go through with these elections,” said Dahl, the clerk and treasurer for the town of Trempealeau. “You print something and then at the next election, it’s obsolete.”

The latest change? A temporary injunction ordered this week by Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan against a new law requiring voters to present a valid photo identification card when they want to cast a ballot.

Passed last year, the law went fully into effect in February for a small number of primary elections for non-partisan seats.

Implementation, though, has been in the works for months, including a public information campaign from the Government Accountability Board.

Clerks have been trained, new absentee ballot forms indicating the need for a photo ID have been printed and, by most accounts, the trial run in February was a success.

Now, the voter ID law is in question.

“It just seems like the changes are just continuously dropped down on us,” said Rosemary Bohm, who has been the Shawano County clerk since 1991.

The injunction would keep the voter ID law from being in effect for the April 3 spring election and presidential primary — unless a higher court overturns the temporary injunction.

The state Department of Justice plans to appeal the ruling.

Parties on both sides of the lawsuit say voter ID is an important issue.

Republicans contend that requiring people to show a valid ID to vote is another step in ensuring the integrity of elections.

Democrats and their allies say the new law makes voting too difficult for some people who may not have easy access to acceptable IDs, including students, seniors and some minorities.

Three lawsuits have been filed against the voter ID law.

On Tuesday, Flanagan ruled that the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP and the immigrant-rights group Voces de la Frontera probably would win the case on its merit, and irreparable harm would be done if the law was put into practice.

Conservatives quickly noted that Flanagan may have a conflict of interest in the case. The judge signed a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker , who is one of the defendants named in the voter ID lawsuit.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, asking for an investigation into whether Flanagan could be an impartial judge in the voter ID case.

That, though, is the political battle in Madison.

Clerks around the state, meanwhile, have a situation of their own.

It’s one in which they wait for the latest instructions regarding how the next election will be run, print public information that might not be valid in a few weeks or months, and plan yearly budgets that may fall far short of the year’s expenses, depending on what surprise elections are held and what legal changes are ordered.

Bohm’s 2011 expenses were about $25,000 more than she planned, thanks to the unexpected addition of two Senate recalls and two recall primaries she had to oversee last year.

This year, she has budgeted for only four elections — and that doesn’t include potential recalls of Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

“You can’t budget for something that’s not certain,” Bohm said.

Mary Schuch-Krebs is in her first term as Kenosha County clerk.

Even with all the changes, Schuch-Krebs said, she’s still interested in the job and hopes to win re-election.

Her least-favorite change is one that allows absentee ballots to be counted up until the Friday after an election –— which means canvassing the vote twice, she said, and may mean a delay in declaring a winner in close races.

Schuch-Krebs said Wisconsin will see, in short order, a large number of county clerks and municipal clerks retiring from their jobs.

“There’s too much going on, too many changes,” she said. “And they’re too short-staffed.”

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