In The News
Election goofs ID the unprepared -- it's GOP
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted April 5, 2012
Walker diehards snarled when two Dane County judges, one with a permanent injunction and one with a temporary, declared unconstitutional Wisconsin’s stringent rules about showing a state-issued photo ID at the polls.
It was Walker enthusiasts -- whose slogan, “Stand With Walker,” bears unfortunate echoes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law – who hoped the Wisconsin Supreme Court would immediately and hastily step in even if halfway through election day to reverse the decision. Didn’t happen, so 25% turnout proceeded without anyone required to show a photo.
The snarlers still hope the state Supremes’ conservative and obedient majority will re-impose photo IDs in time for the May 8 primaries and the June 5 recall Walker election. But there’s an irony here, given what happened April 3.
While the Democrats feel the extreme rules disenfranchise thousands of voters – the elderly, disabled, homeless and transient students -- it is the conservatives who may have dodged a bullet.
Judging from my time April 3 observing statewide election protection lawyers, and chasing government inspectors touring polling places, much maligned Milwaukee handled problems smoothly as long trained to do.
It was the rural and often conservative election workers, unaccustomed to outside scrutiny and not that serious about heeding statewide rules, who had the most problems and confusions even with the minimal changes in the law as it operated April 3. It made one wonder what would have happened had they had to deal with the whole shebang.
Even simple stuff undid many. Like the new requirement to sign a poll book. In several communities the election officials were making voters sign logs twice, wanting to keep their own record perhaps, but forcing a dumb extra step that introduced tremendous opportunity for error and confusion. Little missteps like that produced occasion after occasion when the machine vote total and the handwritten election books failed to match, according to the observers who are still compiling their official report.
Looking past the understandable confusions about what is allowed and not in this still unsettled legal universe – and the professional observers intend to be quite forgiving of such hiccups --- the problems were occurring in communities long used to working their own system at the polls and rather resentful at all those outside experts and rovers, not to mention the big koruna, the inquiring Government Accountability Board, informing them that kosher and they were total strangers.
In Milwaukee County, because of a printing glitch, absentee ballots proved unusable in machines. But smoothly, according to media reports, 900 such ballots with Democrat and Republican observers were transferred to workable ballots. Easy as pie.
Milwaukee election workers, accustomed to abuse from distant GOP quarters that produced this statewide law, have long been trained to manage human error. Not so conservative communities, which had a harder time with uniform process and natural human error. Systems didn’t turn out to be their strong point.
In Waukesha, an elderly voter who didn’t have a photo ID – and actually didn’t need one – was denied a vote and not even offered a provisional ballet. She went home mad without voting, the GAB confirmed. In other incidents, a voter who missed signing a logbook wasn’t told she could just sign again – the election clerk tore up her ballot and made her vote all over.
Again in Waukesha County, the unstable and notoriously stubborn elected county chief Kathy Nickolaus struck again, insisting on following her own computer procedures despite GAB instructions last December to straighten out and fly right.
When clerks returned the data tapes to her office, the results couldn’t compute in her special setup. So strips upon strips of returns were hung about while clerks hand-checked the data. Thousands of votes were delayed up to six hours and no one could guarantee the count, furthering Nickolaus ridicule on the Internet. The episode confirmed the absurdity of Waukesha County always crying “fraud” about Milwaukee County while ignoring their own chronic abuses.
Now imagine what could happen in these counties should the full photo ID law be restored. That’s not me. The worrying aloud came from a conservative lawyer I met who is normally a Walker champion but surveyed his own family about what would occur. His mother stopped driving years ago and has no idea where her birth certificate is. His wife tends to be forgetful of her purse and is accustomed to simply being waved through the voting line by the grandmotherly type who has sat for decades at the table and knows her well. Now such an action could send grandma to court.
The target of the voter ID changes may have been Democrats, but April 3 exposed how vulnerable the whole state and how many angry GOP voters could be fuming in the wake.
“You Democrats have long argued that this law was a solution in search of a problem,” he lamented to me. “Now we may have created a problem to fit the law.”