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Stuck in the Middle: Wisconsin ID Fight Making Life Difficult for Election Officials, Voters

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[Image courtesy of vetsmart]

This week's issue of electionlineWeekly features another terrific story by my colleague Mindy Moretti, who writes about the impact of Wisconsin's ongoing voter ID fight on next Tuesday's April 3 primary.

The new law has currently been halted by two separate trial courts, and the appeals courts have certified both cases to the state Supreme Court who could, in theory, rule on the challenge before polls open on Tuesday.

I've already written before ("Deltaphobia") about the effect of change on election administration, and this current situation puts those concerns front and center. Specifically, notwithstanding the efforts of the state Government Accountability Board to keep clerks apprised of the latest developments in the ID fight, the uncertainty (which Moretti calls the "on-again, off again voter ID law") is creating problems for election officials and voters:

"We had several elections last year when our poll workers asked for the ID during the soft implmentation. So to go back to not having to ask is minor. Not knowing if the injunction will be overturned before the April election is probably more of a concern." Dankmeyer, La Crosse County clerk said. "The biggest issue is the confusion it is causing with the public. We worked hard to make sure they were educated and informed on this new law only to have it reversed. We are getting calls asking for clarification on the injunction and what parts the injunction affects."

...

"I believe voters which had an election in February -- when voter photo ID was required -- may become frustrated with the on-again/off-again requirements," [Waukesha County Clerk Kathy] Nickolaus said. "In the portion of [the] County that had an election in February only one person forgot their photo ID and voted provisionally."

Moreover, the uncertainty is forcing election officials to double up on training and instructions - which in turn increase costs for taxpayers:

"It has caused us to back track on a lot of things, we've had to change our training materials for election workers making the election process even more costly then it already is," said Denise Wetzel, Rusk County clerk. "We've had to try and do press releases to keep the public informed, change information on many different web pages, pull publications, etc. that also leads to added cost of wages for people to do all this."

I suppose it's an unavoidable fact of elections that the biggest changes in election policy tend to occur when policymakers are thinking about elections, which is right before Election Day. And it's completely understandable that both sides in Wisconsin's fight believe their view of the issue should prevail.

Yet, as I've observed elsewhere, as Election Day approaches, it becomes vitally important to respect the legal aphorism that "it is more important that the law be certain than just." Whatever your view of the legitimacy of voter ID or any other change to elections, not knowing the rules beforehand can create confusion on Election Day - and confusion about the results afterwards.

In other words, I really hope the Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn't wait until 7am next Tuesday to issue a ruling; in the words of Shakespeare's Macbeth -

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly ...

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