A worried poll worker speaks: Wisconsin elections in trouble

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If you think Voter ID is bad, if you think the GOP's crazed attempt to redistrict its own redistricting scheme is bad, wait until you've heard from a rank-and-file election worker who is very worried that Wisconsin's election system is about to experience the equivalent of sand in its fuel system.

I spoke recently with a retired Wisconsin citizen who has long served as a local election worker, service that came out of this person's sense of duty and commitment to democracy. For decades, now, in this perennial election worker's view, the system has worked very well, except for the past couple of presidential elections when partisan poll watchers hovered over election workers and slowed them down.

The upcoming elections -- for the expected recalls and the important fall national vote for president and US senator -- have this long-time election worker very concerned. Here's a paraphrased, edited version of the worker's comments to me:

"I went to the election commissio's meeting for election workers who wil be working the upcoming spring election. The content of these meetings is usually unsurprising, although there are always a few new wrinkles. But this time, when I left the meeting my head was swimming.

"So many changes in state law and uncertainties in their meaning and legitmacy have occurred in the past year that those of us who assist the voters and run the election are going to face serious challenges. The biggest change of course is Voter ID.

"In our meeting, we spent a great deal of time going over how Voter ID will affect the way we serve voters, including whether they are even able to vote. One aspect of this new law that has not been fully discussed is what happens when someone comes to the polls intending to register on the spot, or shows up without proper ID.

[Blogger's note: I've deleted what was originally the paragraph here, which misstated Wisconsin's proof of residency requirement when registering at the polls to vote. The person's full name and full current address on, for example, a utility bill, are still accepted. According to GAB, "The voter’s sworn statement on the registration form that they meet the [new, much longer] 28-day [residency] requirement shall be presumed to be true unless the inspector or a challenger has first-hand knowledge sufficient to question the certification."  However, as the original paragraph noted, vouching by another elector is no longer an acceptable way to establish proof. And, this requirement just allows you to register. You still need an approved "voter ID" in order to get a ballot.]

"Election commssions are in many cases planning to add additional poll workers in anticipation of such delays, but there's also the confusion of all these new requirements. And the state -- along with partisan poll watchers -- is going to be looking much more closely at every little thing that happens. If the poll workers don't do their jobs perfectly, people are going to ask questions, but already burdened poll workers are being buried under new rules and procedures that will complicate their already detail-oriented duties.

"The voters, too, are going to be confused. In our municipality, voters have been used to coming to the table and giving their address. Now they're expected to first give their name and show that ID for inspection. That's going to cause more delay as everyone gets used to the new system. Fewer people will be get through the lines to vote, even including some people who have all the proper ID, because there's more to do to approve each voter before handing out a ballot.

"The bottom line is that, in a supposed effort to protect against virtually non-existent fraud, Voter ID is really only going to protect against thousands of registered, and legitimate but unregistered, citizens from voting in Wisconsin.

"And don't get me started on redistricting. This is another time bomb that is waiting to explode in the faces of already stressed election staffs and poll workers.

"Expect in the coming year to see a lot of skilled, experienced election workers quitting the work out of frustration, which will introduce more errors and delays to the act of voting and the counting and securing of those votes. Election commissions depend heavily on their veteran poll workers; but over time there will be fewer of them, just as there already are fewer veteran public employees, because a record number of them have quit or retired in disgust at all the indignities heaped upon them in the past year.

"You can't denigrate hard-working public servants and honest voters by the bushel and then expect everything to run smoothly. In fact, my own thought is that anyone who uses such tactics probably hopes that things don't run smoothly. That's their real goal: Casting doubt and suspicion on processes that ran efficiently and above board for decades -- until these meddlers came along to gum things up."

ADDENDUM: And how is the state working to ensure that Voter ID will be carefully implemented? By gutting funds previously approved for that purpose. The Walker administration's latest plan to balance its allegedly balanced budget this week chopped $227,000 previously allocated to the Government Accountability Board. That money was to be spent to implement Voter ID. But don't expect Republican backers of Voter ID to identify their own stinginess when they later claim Voter ID hasn't worked well enough and needs to be toughened yet some more.