By Senator Joe Leibham
March 26, 2010
Major Election “Reforms” Introduced at the Last Minute
With the regular voting session of the 2009-10 legislature coming to a quick close, it is concerning that three major legislative proposals that would make substantial changes to the laws that regulate our elections were just introduced for consideration. The late introduction of these bills means that they will not receive a thorough review and understanding from the legislature, much less the public as a whole. Yet, it is likely that these bills will be rushed through the law-making process and scheduled for final votes in the next couple of weeks.
Perhaps as you read about some of the proposals, you will come to the same conclusion that I have €“ the sponsors of these proposed changes really don’t want much public scrutiny of the bills.
The first proposal would sign Wisconsin onto a “National Popular Vote” agreement between several states. This agreement, if ratified by enough states, would require that Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes in presidential general elections be awarded to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationally €“ even if that candidate does not win the popular vote here in Wisconsin.
I have numerous concerns with this proposal based upon my belief that our current Electoral College system, laid out by our Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution, works well and ensures that smaller states like Wisconsin and rural areas will continue to have a role in our presidential elections. If we switch to a popular vote system, what incentive would there be for a presidential candidate to focus on our area, instead of vote-rich population centers like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles?
The second proposal is a 72-page “reform” of current Wisconsin election law. Following are a few major highlights of this bill:
- Automatic Voter Registration €“ Require the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) to automatically add ALL eligible state residents to the state’s voter registration list. Information would be obtained from various state government databases, including those used by the departments of health services, children and families, workforce development, revenue, regulation and licensing, transportation and natural resources. Over time, all state residents would be added to the state’s voter rolls even if the individual never registered to vote.
- Federal MOVE Act €“ Implement the federal Military Overseas Voting Empowerment Act that seeks to make it easier for overseas military personnel to vote or register to vote.
- Challenging Ballots €“ In municipalities with a population over 2,500, require that individuals challenging the integrity of a ballot cast in an election be a resident of the same ward or election district in which that ballot was cast.
- Early Voting €“ Create an early voting system that would allow for early voting to start on the third Thursday before an election and continue until the day before the election. Voting could take place for a couple of weeks under this plan.
- Use of Campus Dormitory Lists for Voter Registration €“ Require local clerks and election officials to accept campus dormitory lists as qualified voter lists.
While I support the federal MOVE Act, I have great concerns about the automatic and early voting proposals. I support improving the process for voting, but I still believe there needs to be some personal responsibility to get legally registered and to vote on Election Day.
The third proposal is a bill that would allow for online voter registration at the website of the GAB. The registrant must have a current and valid state-issued driver’s license or ID card, but they need not provide proof of residence prior to voting if they electronically provide their Wisconsin driver’s license number, together with their name and date of birth. Local election officials are then charged with verifying these registrations. I am carefully reviewing this process and working to understand how the verification process would be implemented. The state does not have a great track record when it comes to verifying voter registrations.
Your thoughts on these proposals would be helpful. While some may have merit, I am very concerned with the late, last minute push for these major reforms to our election laws.
Four years ago, I helped lead a comprehensive election reform package through the legislative process by working in a bipartisan fashion along with Governor Jim Doyle. We spent over a year openly deliberating the proposed changes, working to ensure that they improved our election process while maintaining the integrity of the vote. Our ability to vote for our government is an awesome right and changes to our election process should be fully considered and scrutinized €“ not jammed through the legislature at the very last minute.
As always, it has been a pleasure communicating with you. Please remember to communicate with me and share your input by calling 888-295-8750, writing to me at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882, or by e-mailing me at Sen.Leibham@legis.wi.gov . You can also log on to the 9th Senate District on-line office at www.leibhamsenate.com .
It is an honor representing the residents of the 9th District in the State Senate.