On July 12th, the country was watching the Wisconsin recall elections. That day, 505 residents of Glendale were eager to fulfill their significant role in our form of government. They had been beleaguered by ads, door knocks, and phone calls. The time had come to play their part in the 2011 Wisconsin drama. But when those 505 citizens of Glendale arrived at their regular polling place, they...
On July 12th, the country was watching the Wisconsin recall elections. That day, 505 residents of Glendale were eager to fulfill their significant role in our form of government. They had been beleaguered by ads, door knocks, and phone calls. The time had come to play their part in the 2011 Wisconsin drama. But when those 505 citizens of Glendale arrived at their regular polling place, they found it closed. Instead of people feeling empowered about their ability to have a voice in their government, voters left the closed polls angry and frustrated.
Glendale had decided not to fully fund the election. Efforts to inform voters fell far short, as approximately 20% of the Election Day voters went to a closed polling place. Did the people who wanted to vote before going to work have time to find the correct polling place? What of the woman, who along with her young daughter walked a mile to a closed polling place? The only place she could vote was 6 miles away.
Incredibly, the Government Accountability Board has asked the legislature to weaken the protection for voters against a surprise change in their polling place. Currently, municipalities must establish polling places 60 days before fall elections. SB-116 was amended after the public hearing to reduce this to 30 days. SB-116 was passed by the Senate, and as of October 1st is with the Assembly Committee on Elections. (The main clause of SB-116 would change the date of the fall primary, in order to conform to federal law.)
Fair Elections Wisconsin discovered these weaknesses in current procedures for notifying voters about polling place changes:
*There is currently no requirement that municipal clerks update the Statewide Voter Registration System. Thus, voters checking for their polling place at Voter Public Access (the GAB website) may get wrong information. Furthermore, voters who recently registered will be sent verification postcards that might have the wrong polling place listed.
*There is currently no requirement that a notice be placed at a closed polling place. Exception: A notice is currently required for an election that is solely for a school district.
*There is currently no requirement that voters be informed by mail, even if the polling place is changed from the primary to the final election.
*There is no deadline by which polling places are established for an election that is solely for a school district.
*The only notification required is a newspaper notice the day before an election. While this is important, many people are no longer getting information from newspapers.
We have developed a detailed proposal for guarding against surprise polling place changes. The full story on the 505 voters and our proposal is at http://tinyurl.com/ClosedPP
We have asked the Assembly Elections Committee for a public hearing on this bill, so that these provisions (and others added to the bill after the initial hearing) could be discussed. Instead of weakening the protection for voters, let’s strengthen it.
Paul Malischke, Spokesperson for Fair Elections Wisconsin