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Legislative committee eyes changes to election rules

Republican leaders are considering a move that could make it easier for Gov. Scott Walker to fight off a potential recall election in January. The Legislature's rules committee ended its meeting Tuesday without voting on two new Government Accoun...

Republican leaders are considering a move that could make it easier for Gov. Scott Walker to fight off a potential recall election in January.

The Legislature's rules committee ended its meeting Tuesday without voting on two new Government Accountability Board (GAB) policies dealing with changes in technology and vagaries in the state's new photo voter ID law. But the committee's co-chairwoman said she heard enough testimony to warrant further investigation and possible action in the near future.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said nothing she heard during the three-hour meeting allayed her fears about the new policies by the state's election watchdog agency. Republican leaders say the rules endanger "clean, fair elections across the board in Wisconsin."

But Democrats on Tuesday accused Republicans of running interference for the governor and trying to suppress voter participation.

In implementing the new voter ID law, officials with GAB decided to let college students use school IDs, providing those IDs included stickers with the following information: issuance date, expiration date, a signature and some form of identifying logo. IDs issued by technical and trade schools would not be valid.

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College students typically lean Democratic, so making it harder for them to vote is seen by Democrats as a way to suppress the vote in favor of Republicans.

Officials with GAB also recently adopted a policy that allows single-signature petition forms, as well as pre-populated forms.

For example, people could download their own recall petitions, sign them and send them to an organization working to recall a politician. Or, that organization could gather a list of names and addresses and send out the forms for signature.

Such a change in the way recalls are handled could make the process much easier.

"I think a number of good questions were raised," Vukmir said. "I would like further clarification."

But Democrats said the real reason behind the hastily called meeting -- which barely met the 24-hour notice rule -- was to force GAB to write new rules that either conform with the Republicans' wishes or could be killed by the governor.

A new law gives the governor the power to decide the fate of emergency rules. Walker could refuse to act on any new rule proposed by GAB, which Democratic committee members said could allow him to stall any recall efforts against him.

"We all know who is in a position to worry about being recalled," said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. "You may have fooled yourself, but you haven't fooled me. You are trying to allow the governor to decide whether or not he can be recalled."

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(c)2011 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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