Without increasing election officials' training and staffing, new voter registration requirements could make it difficult or even impossible for many valid Wisconsin voters to cast their ballot, according to reports released by two voting rights groups Wednesday.
The groups paint a picture of statewide confusion from poll workers and voters over acceptable proof of residency, along with a lack of preparation for the high voter turnout that was seen across Wisconsin during the June 5 recall election.
"What we saw were issues that could lead to disenfranchisement," said Andrea Kaminski, executive director for Wisconsin's League of Women Voters.
The league, along with Wisconsin Election Protection -- a coalition that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, AFL-CIO and Milwaukee-based immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera -- based the conclusions on reports filed by over 150 observers at polling places throughout the state.
Under a law passed last summer, voters are required to live at their voting address for 28 consecutive days before an election, up from the previous 10-day residency requirement. To register to vote, voters must prove residency using a limited list of identification sources.
Those rules, along with inadequate staffing and training for election officials, led to confusion, long waits and voters being improperly turned away, according to the Wisconsin Election Protection report. Both reports concluded that students, who are more transient and less likely to possess the documents needed to prove residency, were most likely to face voting difficulties. Because of changes in the law, parents could not corroborate the validity of college students living at home during the summer who did not have proof of residence.
In some respects, the reports' findings mirror claims of voting irregularities leveled predominantly by Republicans following the recall election and subsequent recount in Racine County. Unlike Republican leaders, neither the League nor the Wisconsin Election Protection alluded to the possibility of widespread voter fraud.
The reports called for increased staffing at polling places and improved poll-worker training, as well as restoration of voters' ability to corroborate a fellow resident's voting address.
The Government Accountability Board, the state agency tasked with overseeing elections, has already pledged to increase clerk training and preparation ahead of November's general election.
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