MILWAUKEE — One of the biggest challenges in rolling out Wisconsin's 2011 photo voter ID law was training the state's unusually large number of election clerks, a top elections official testified Thursday during a federal hearing over the stalled law.
Kevin Kennedy, the head of the state's Government Accountability Board, said there were about 1,850 clerks in Wisconsin at the time the law was passed. That's one-sixth the number of clerks in the entire nation, he noted.
An attorney asked Kennedy whether it was difficult to train so many workers on the details of the new law.
"It's never an easy process," he said, shaking his head.
Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that administers its elections at the local level, Reid Magney, a Government Accountability Board spokesman, told The Associated Press. Many states run elections at the county level, but Wisconsin defers control to the state's 1,852 cities, towns and villages.
That means the state elections board has to train all 1,852 clerks, who then instruct 30,000 poll workers, Magney said.
Kennedy testified that there were a handful of glitches, such as some voters not being asked to sign the poll book or voters signing on the wrong line.
"You're going to have some mistakes, some inconsistencies, because they're human beings. That's part of nature," Kennedy said.
Kennedy was a key witness on Thursday, the fourth day of a trial expected to last two weeks. He's listed as one of the defendants because of his role with the board, which was tasked with enforcing the voter ID law.
The Republican-backed law passed in 2011. It was only in effect for a single primary in February 2012 before a Dane County judge declared it unconstitutional. Opponents have pursued a federal trial while that decision and others are appealed.
The law would require voters to show a state-issued photo ID at the polls. Supporters say it would cut down on voter fraud and boost public confidence in the integrity of the election process. Opponents say the law excludes poor and minority voters disproportionately because they're less likely to have photo IDs or the documents required to get them.
Over the past four days, lawyers for the plaintiffs have introduced a stream of low-income and minority voters who testified that they don't have IDs and have struggled to get one.
The plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the nonprofit Advancement Project.
Their attorneys also asked Kennedy on Thursday about recommendations that he and the board offered to the Legislature while the measure was being debated. Kennedy said he had proposed an affidavit system in which those voters without ID would sign a sworn statement affirming their identity. Those people would be warned of criminal consequences if they lied.
"The Legislature chose not to adopt that," he recalled.
Upcoming witnesses for the plaintiffs are expected to argue that incidents of voter impersonation are so rare in the U.S. that it doesn't make sense to burden entire minority communities with a photo ID law just to stem a nearly nonexistent problem.
Attorneys defending the measure have said they'll present evidence showing that people who want an ID can easily get one. They'll also argue that citizens deserve to know their elections are being conducted with transparency and integrity.
The outcome of the Wisconsin case is being closely watched because it could set a precedent for legal challenges in dozens of other states that have imposed or stiffened voter ID requirements in recent years.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.