MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Wednesday a requirement that voters in Wisconsin show photo identification at the polls, marking the end of a nearly decade-long push by Republicans to enact it.
Opponents are expected to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court, but it wasn’t clear if those would come soon after the bill’s signing or after the first elections in 2012 when the photo ID requirement is in effect.
Signing of the law was a major victory for Republicans who have worked since 2003 to see the requirement enacted. Walker signed the bill at a ceremony in his conference room attended by many of the Republican lawmakers who worked for years to get it done. About 50 protesters outside the room chanted “Recall Walker!” and “Shame!” during the signing ceremony.
Walker, who had proposed a photo ID requirement when he was in the state Assembly a decade ago, said he was proud to sign the bill into law.
“This one’s obviously special,” the governor said.
Complete Republican control of the Legislature and governor’s office finally allowed them to pass the bill and get it signed into law this year. Similar versions of the bill passed three times between 2002 and 2005 when Democrat Jim Doyle was governor, but he vetoed it each time.
Walker and Republicans say the requirement is necessary to instill confidence in Wisconsin’s elections and ensure they are clear of fraud. But Democrats say the requirements are so restrictive, and confusing, it will lead to poor people, the elderly and college students being turned away at the polls.
Leaders of both the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now said they were considering lawsuits.
“We believe Wisconsin’s law is overly burdensome on voters and that the state is simply unequipped to administer this law and ensure legal voters will not be disenfranchised or subject to a poll tax,” said One Wisconsin Now director Scot Ross. No decision has been made on what legal action may be taken or when, he said.
Christopher Ahmuty, director of ACLU of Wisconsin, said the law is an “unnecessary voter suppression measure.”
“We will be looking at the total sum of the problems that the bill has and decide whether they create an undue burden on voters, and groups of voters, and when we do that we will decide which way to go,” Ahmuty said.
Walker said he was confident the law would withstand any legal challenge.
“I have no doubt about it,” Walker said. “It has in other states.”
Indiana’s law, which Wisconsin’s was modeled after, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
But opponents say Wisconsin’s law differs significantly from Indiana’s, pointing in particular to the requirement that Wisconsin absentee voters must include a photocopy of their ID when mailing in their ballots. They argue that will present an additional burden on poor voters and the elderly who may have a hard time getting copies made.
Opponents also say Wisconsin has much less access to Department of Motor Vehicle offices to get allowable IDs than Indiana, which also creates a burden.
Only eight states currently have a photo ID law, with one in Kansas to take effect next year. South Carolina passed a photo ID law earlier this month, but it is currently under review by the U.S. Justice Department. Eighteen other states, with Oklahoma to join in July, require identification at the polls but it doesn’t have to be with a photo.
Wisconsin’s requirement to show photo identification takes effect for elections in 2012, but other changes such as requiring voters to sign poll books and to have lived at their current address for 28 days instead of just 10, take effect immediately.
That means those changes will be in place before up to nine recall elections affecting six Republican and three Democratic state senators. The earliest those elections could take place is July 12.
Under the new law, voters will have to present a driver’s license, state ID, passport, military ID, naturalization papers or tribal ID in order to vote. College students could vote with an ID from their school as long as it has their signature and an expiration date that falls within two years of the card’s issuance.
University of Wisconsin IDs currently don’t meet that criteria and would have to updated to comply before students could use them to vote.
Voters who have a photo ID but forget to bring it to the polls can cast a provisional ballot that would only be counted if the voter presents a photo ID to the local election clerk by the Friday after the election.
People living in nursing homes, retirement homes and institutions are exempt, as are victims of stalking and anyone who objects to having their photos taken for religious grounds.
Taking effect for elections this year is a new limitation on how long voters can cast absentee ballots in person at the clerk’s office. That window is reduced from 30 days to just two weeks and it would end the Friday before the election, rather than the day after.
The new law also does away with party-line voting, except for military and overseas voters.
While the law will prevent someone from voting using another person’s name, it will do nothing to prevent felons from voting while on state supervision.
None of the 20 voter fraud cases prosecuted by the state Department of Justice and Milwaukee County district attorney’s office stemming from the November 2008 presidential election involved someone voting using another person’s name.
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