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Senate gives preliminary approval to photo ID bill

Tom Lynn

Democratic state senators are absent from the Senate floor as roll call is taken Thursday. The Senate gave preliminary approval to voter ID requirements, but the bill can’t pass without 20 members present.

Measure can't pass without quorum

The 19 Republican members of the Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a state law requiring a photo identification to vote, an issue with a deep partisan split.

But all 14 Democratic senators were absent, continuing their weeklong exodus to Illinois to avoid taking a vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill, which would eliminate much of the collective bargaining now allowed public employee unions.

The voter ID measure, which is opposed by many Democrats, was hailed by Republicans as a common sense method of ensuring fair elections. Democrats have argued that incidents of voter fraud are rare and that the ID requirement would curb voting by minorities and others.

"Not a single voter in this state will be disenfranchised by the ID law," said Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin).

Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate issued a statement calling the measure a "voter suppression bill."

Republicans adopted revisions to the original version so that several additional forms of ID for voting would be acceptable, including passports, naturalization papers and tribal IDs. As under current law, driver's licenses, state ID cards and military IDs would remain acceptable for voting under the new measure.

Student IDs, however, would not be allowed, despite a push for them by Democrats. Lazich said Republicans wanted to set standards for student IDs before agreeing to allow them.

The new version also provides a grace period until January before the requirement is enforced. Voters at spring elections without photo IDs would be given brochures explaining the new requirement but would be allowed to vote.

Under the bill, voters who don't have a photo ID at the polls could cast provisional ballots that would be counted if the voters showed identification to election clerks by 4 p.m. on the Friday after an election.

The ID measure also would nearly triple the minimum residency from 10 days to 28 days before someone could vote. People who moved to their residence less than 28 days before the election from within Wisconsin could vote at their previous polling place. If the people moved to Wisconsin from another state within the previous 28 days, they could vote for presidential candidates but not local and state candidates.

Senators could not vote final approval on the bill Thursday because it has a cost - $1 million to $1.5 million - and all bills with a fiscal impact require at least 20 senators to be present.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau implored Democratic senators to return to the Capitol so the voter ID and other measures can be completed. If the final vote on the ID bill isn't taken in the next couple of weeks, it will cost the state more because a separate educational outreach beyond the spring elections explaining the law would be needed, Lazich said.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said in a phone interview that the Democrats' absence made little difference because Republicans had vowed to pass the voting measure over Democrats' objections.

"They are going to pass the most restrictive voter legislation in the country," Larson said from an Illinois location he declined to identify.

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