Wisconsin Voters Can Use Smartphone to Prove Address
Voters registering to vote at the polls in November will be able to display a utility bill or bank statement on their smartphone or computer screen to prove their address, state election officials decided.
Voters registering to vote at the polls in November will be able to display a utility bill or bank statement on their smartphone or computer screen to prove their address, state election officials decided Tuesday.
Stating that they weren't "dinosaurs," the retired judges who sit on the state's Government Accountability Board unanimously overruled a staff recommendation that the elections agency hold off on any final decision on the issue until after the fall elections.
Voters needing to register have to show a document proving where they live, but currently even the paper copies are just shown to poll workers who don't keep them.
"I can't see the difference between being shown a screen with an identifying document or being shown a piece of paper," said Judge Thomas Cane, who said he no longer receives any paper bills or statements at his home. "I think we've got to bring ourselves up to date."
The agency's staff had taken no position on how to interpret a state law requiring voters to produce an identifying "document" but had urged the board to wait on a decision until after the November elections to allow more time to consult with local election clerks.
The local clerks who spoke to the board Tuesday morning at the state Capitol were largely in favor of the board's interpretation of the law or neutral on it but urged the board to make a decision quickly. The board made clear that it's the responsibility of voters to bring a computer or smartphone if they don't have the right paper document -- local clerks do not have to provide computers or Internet access at polling places.
GOP raises concerns
Republicans criticized the decision immediately. While attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., state Rep. Robin Vos of Rochester questioned whether emails, because they are easily forwarded, could be more open to tampering or forgery.
"Once again the GAB is showing that they do not share the public's concern that voter integrity is maintained throughout the process," Vos said.
Some of those speaking to the board Tuesday pointed out that hard-copy statements also can be forged and that some records, such as bank or government websites, would be more difficult to forge than a single page of paper.
With its action, the board did not accept any new types of documents, only electronic versions of forms that are currently accepted for verifying voters' addresses, including leases; bills for gas, electric or phone service; and bank statements. Formerly, the board's staff had informally interpreted the term in state law "document" to apply only to paper records, but the board had never taken a formal position on the matter before Tuesday.
The issue was first raised before the board by the liberal group the Institute for One Wisconsin, which has sought to make it easier for state residents to vote. The group's lawyer, Rebecca Mason, called the board's decision Tuesday a "victory for democracy."
Spokesmen for Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen could not be immediately reached for comment.
The board made its decision after a stream of college students from the state told GAB officials at the meeting that they conducted most of their business bills entirely online, including their tuition and leases.
Municipal clerks also testified that in past elections they had used electronic documents ranging from statements from private companies to their municipality's own property and tax records and that they had not encountered problems.
Dane County Clerk Karen Peters said that she believed allowing electronic documents would be the "best thing that could happen" and would especially benefit young voters. She said that some municipal clerks in her county had concerns about implementing the policy right away and wanted more time to plan, but she said the largest concern was that clerks would not be required to provide computers or Internet access at polling places.
Sun Prairie Clerk Diane Hermann-Brown, a past president of the state clerks association, said other clerks appeared to be split over whether to allow the practice. But Hermann-Brown acknowledged that she had accepted electronic records in the past herself in Sun Prairie.
The main thing, she urged the board, was to act immediately on the issue or put it off until after the November election. Changing the board's interpretation of the law in October right before the election wouldn't leave clerks with enough time to plan, she said.
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