Two weeks after Barack Obama and Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) carried the state of Wisconsin with the support of minorities and young voters, Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced one of his major policy proposals for the upcoming session: ending the state’s 40-year old law that allows citizens to register to vote on Election Day.
And with Republicans now back in control of the Wisconsin state legislature, Walker may well get his way next year.
In 2008, Wisconsin enjoyed the second highest turnout of any state in the nation (72.4 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot), due largely to the fact the Badger State law allows residents who aren’t registered or have recently moved to register at the polls. That year, approximately 460,000 people used Election Day Registration, 15 percent of all Wisconsinites who cast a ballot.
Walker pressed his case for ending same-day registration during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in California on Friday:
“States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13 hour days and who in most cases are retirees,” Walker said. “It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done.“
Wisconsin was the first state to enact Election Day Registration in 1971, followed soon by states like Minnesota and Maine. Today, eleven states have laws allowing citizens to register at the polls. These states enjoy the highest turnout in the nation not by chance, but because Election Day Registration boosts turnout by 7 to 14 percentage points. In addition, studies show that minorities, poorer voters, and students benefit the most from being permitted to register on Election Day.
Republican legislators in Maine attempted a similar move last year, repealing the state’s 40-year-old Election Day Registration law. However, a citizen backlash erupted, sending the matter to a statewide referendum where voters rebuked the legislature and restored the law by a 2-to-1 margin.
The last time Walker and his Republican allies won complete control of the legislature in 2010, they immediately passed a discriminatory voter ID law that would have disenfranchised people like 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank had it not been blocked by a state judge.
Now, with Wisconsin State Republicans riding high, they appear to again be setting their sights on chipping away at voting rights.