MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Municipal and county clerks say they're ready for Wisconsin's upcoming presidential primary despite uncertainty over whether its on-again, off-again voter photo identification law will be in effect.
The Government Accountability Board, which runs the state's elections, isn't taking any chances. It's ceased running radio and television ads about bringing photo IDs to the polls, but is asking clerks to continue training their inspectors and poll workers on how to properly look for state-issued photo ID in case the law is suddenly reinstated.
"It's easier to train them on what they may have to do, as opposed to not covering that and then having to bring them back for additional training," said GAB spokesman Reid Magney. "We don't want to be in the position where we're scrambling to train people."
The law, which was in effect for the state's spring primary in February, went into limbo just weeks later after two Wisconsin judges filed separate injunctions against the law. The state's Department of Justice has appealed both rulings, and hopes the injunctions will be lifted in time for the April 3 presidential primary.
But some would prefer the injunctions stay in place for now, since a last-minute reversal days before the election would hurt voters who have ceased efforts to acquire state-issued ID in time. GAB director Kevin Kennedy has asked state attorneys to hold off on the appeals.
"We advised the attorney general's office that it would be better if nothing changed before April 3," Kennedy said. "We don't want the public in a yo-yo type situation."
Absentee voting, which has begun for the primary, has also added another point of confusion. What if, during the injunction, an absentee voter makes a request for ballots for all elections for the rest of the year? What if the injunction is then lifted? Reid said the voter will receive the ballots. They'll be able to vote later in the year with those ballots, even if the law goes back into effect.
Eau Claire County Clerk Janet Loomis, who doesn't expect the injunctions to be overturned in time, said it would be unfair to have people vote now via absentee without a valid ID, but later require others to show one.
"We're just way too close now to get everyone in the opposite direction," she said. "You should treat the whole election in the same way."
Other officials say they're ready either way. City of Green Bay interim clerk Kris Tesky spent a recent afternoon writing letters to chief election inspectors to let them know the latest news.
"It doesn't matter to me," she said. "So many other things with elections happen at the last minute. And we're just used to going with the flow."
Reid said GAB, which launched a pricey voter ID ad campaign in January, is still emphasizing to election officials that other provisions of the law will be in effect. They include voters signing their names in a poll book and a 28-day residency requirement.
The state's voter ID law passed the GOP-led Legislature last spring amid complaints from several groups that it disenfranchised minority groups, the poor, students and senior citizens by setting up roadblocks to get a valid ID. Proper ID includes a state-issued ID card, valid driver's license, U.S. passport, a student ID that expires within two years or a military ID.
The law has been entangled in litigation ever since. Several groups - including the NAACP of Milwaukee branch, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union - filed lawsuits challenging the law. There are four pending.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan granted a temporary injunction March 6 in the lawsuit filed by the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess, presiding over a separate lawsuit filed by the League, granted a permanent injunction less than a week later.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has appealed both decisions and requested the injunctions be on hold until a final ruling.
Gov. Scott Walker told reporters during a bill signing in La Crosse on Friday that Dane County judges blocking the law are another example of Madison existing outside of reality.
"People understand it is a common sense proposal," Walker said.
The governor then pulled his own driver's license out of his wallet and held it up for television cameras, saying people need identification for all sorts of basic transactions in modern-day society.
La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said her office had some initial phone calls from voters asking for clarification on the law. But she's confident municipal and county clerks are ready.
"They've practiced and are prepared to ask for the photo ID," Dankmeyer said. "If the injunction holds, they're also prepared to not have to ask for it."
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