Help America Vote Act in Wisconsin

League Represented on State Elections Board Review Committee

by Beverly, Speer, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) was signed into law last October and went into effect on January 1, 2003. HAVA requires states to change many of their voting procedures and requirements. These federal changes can either restrict or expand the vote depending on the state at issue. Milwaukee County League, and League of Women Voters of Wisconsin (LWVWI) Legislative Committee, member Carolyn Castore will represent the LWVWI on the newly formed State Elections Board (SEB) committee to review the impact of the new federal elections reforms on Wisconsin’s elections law.

LWVUS remarks that it is media coverage of the national voting reform issue that has given the public the misperception that most voting problems will be solved by the purchase of new voting machines. They clarify the need for States to overhaul a wide variety of election procedures in order to bring about true voting reform. LWV is working diligently and collaboratively to assist citizens around the country to get actively involved in their state election reform process.

Immediate Impact on Wisconsin

This major piece of legislation authorizes funds to each state to improve the operation of elections, moves much of the responsibility for elections from the local level to the states, and creates a new federal commission, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Authorized funding has not been appropriated for HAVA. Kevin Kennedy, SEB Executive Director, states that Wisconsin could receive as much as $61 million if the legislation is fully funded. Only a small portion of this money would require state matching funds.

Carolyn reports that the SEB has organized a state review committee of 12-15 members that represent a variety of constituencies. She notes that the committee plans to copy key legislators as well as the Governor’s staff on all meetings. The committee hopes to set up an initial briefing at the earliest convenient time. The goal is to have a draft plan put together by the first week in May addressing each of the 13 elements of the plan. It then goes to the Elections Board on May 21. After any additional modifications, it would go out for public comment and possibly more changes, before it is sent to the EAC by mid July.

HAVA impacts every part of the voting process, from voting machines to provisional ballots, from voter registration to poll worker training. The implementation of the provisional ballot requirements and the statewide voter list are the two most important items to influence. The SEB wants to ensure that HAVA does no harm in Wisconsin. Currently, Wisconsin has liberal election laws allowing same day registration, not requiring any identification to vote, and a wide range of acceptable identification for voter registration. Mr. Kennedy believes the impact will largely be very positive for the disabled community.

Public Participation

Fulfilling the requirements of the law and implementing the state plan will likely require state legislative action as well as administrative rules changes. Because the state plan is not binding, only a requirement for federal grants, these changes are likely to be more important than the plan itself. Citizens are encouraged to get involved in each of these processes.

League seeks to assist citizen activists, concerned organizations, and government officials in implementing the new law in ways that will ensure the enfranchisement of all eligible citizens and encourage efficient administrative practices. The SEB and LWVWI continue to investigate and monitor its impact on existing laws in Wisconsin. The federal law and related planning materials for Wisconsin can be found on the State Elections Board website at http://elections.state.wi.us/. An additional resource is the League of Women Voters website, www.lwv.org.

To contact LWVWI call 608-256-0827 or e-mail genfund@lwvwi.org; also see www.lwvwi.org.

This article first appeared in the March 2003 issue of the Wisconsin Women’s Network’s newsletter The Stateswoman.