Reality Check: What Does Voter ID Bill Entail?

More Than $7 Million In Costs Associated With Bill

Published On: May 10 2011 07:59:40 AM CDT   Updated On: May 10 2011 09:24:03 AM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

The state Assembly is set to take up a controversial bill requiring that voters show photo ID at the polls in its session on Wednesday.

But before the full Legislature takes up the bill, WISC-TV is taking a closer look at what it does.

The voter ID bill is on the fast-track to passage. Republican lawmakers want voters to prove they are who they say they are when they show up at the polls.

That means being required to show a photo ID, which can be a driver's license, state ID card, military ID, passport, naturalization certificate, tribal ID or student ID that has a signature and expiration date.

Some people are exempted, including those in nursing homes, victims of stalking or those who object to having their photo taken for religious reasons.

The bottom line is that people would have to prove who they are, even if they are registered, rather than just give their name to a poll worker who checks them off a list. Currently no proof is required unless a person is registering for the first time.

Republican supporters of the bill said it's needed to prevent voter fraud.

"There have obviously been problems with elections in the past, and this bill I think improves the integrity of the system and it's something that people believe is a reasonable step," said Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale.

But how widespread of a problem is voter fraud?

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board said on its website that it "has not seen documented evidence of any widespread, organized or systemic cases of voting by ineligible individuals," but some cases have been prosecuted.

The Wisconsin Attorney General's Office started an election fraud task force just before the 2008 elections and has charged 19 people in fraud cases since then, primarily in Milwaukee. But 10 of those were cases of felon voters, who were caught because they provided their correct names and addresses. That total doesn't include cases prosecuted in district attorney's offices around the state, and while the GAB doesn't compile a total, the board said it is fair to say the cases are rare.

There are also costs involved in the bill.

In order for the bill to be constitutional, those who can't afford a photo ID have to be given one for free. Under the bill, there are no standards for those free IDs, so everyone could get a free license or ID card. That will cost about $4 million in the next two years. Then there's the cost of implementing the law, which adds up to $2 million for the GAB and $1.4 million for the UW system to meet new requirements for student IDs. In total, that could add up to more than $7 million in costs for the bill, all of which would be included in the next two-year budget, WISC-TV found.

"To spend this kind of money at a time where we are assaulting schools, cutting vocational colleges by a third, health care. People are literally terrified about whether they're going to have SeniorCare or BadgerCare or Family Care any longer. It's just outrageous," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

Democrats said that Republicans are rushing the measure through before recall elections.

"Voter ID is part of the same process that they're just rushing all this through as quickly as they possibly can. There's a new version every day. Who knows who is even driving that train?" Barca said.

"It's something we've been working on for a long time. We've had a number of hearings, and we think we've got a good, solid piece of legislation that will make for elections everyone can have confidence in," Stone said.

Other changes in the bill include how long a person would have to live in Wisconsin from 10 to 28 days before voting and having a voter sign a form when he or she gets a ballot. While photo ID wouldn't go into effect until 2012, these two changes would be in effect for this summer's recall elections.