MADISON, Wisconsin — Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday he would call legislators into special session to modify Wisconsin's stalled voter photo identification requirements to conform with pending court rulings and reinstate the mandate ahead of the November elections.
Walker, a Republican who is up for re-election, told reporters during a Wisconsin Bankers Association gathering at a Madison convention center that he sees voter ID as the most pressing election-related issue facing the state.
"I think in the end people overwhelmingly told us in the state they want to have voter ID," Walker said.
Republicans who control the Legislature put the photo identification requirement in place in 2011, saying it would help combat in-person voter fraud. Democrats maintain that such fraud is extremely rare and that the voter ID law is designed to keep Democratic-leaning constituencies such as minorities and immigrants from voting.
The mandate went into effect with the February 2012 primary but hasn't been enforced since that election. Two Dane County circuit judges struck down the requirement later that year in separate lawsuits brought by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP's Milwaukee branch. Both lawsuits have wound their way to the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Milwaukee also is weighing two additional challenges by the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens. It's unclear when rulings might come down in any of the cases, leaving the requirement in legal limbo.
Assembly Republicans passed a bill in November that would allow people to opt out of showing photo ID at the polls if they submit a statement saying they can't afford one, can't obtain the documents needed to obtain one or have a religious objection to being photographed.
But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said his chamber won't pass the legislation while the court cases are pending. The regular two-year legislative session is set to end April 1.
Fitzgerald said Tuesday that he thinks a special session to tweak the mandate to satisfy the courts once they've ruled would be appropriate.
"If the governor calls us into a special, that would be great," Fitzgerald said, adding he plans to speak with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, about possibly calling themselves into an extraordinary session to make the changes.
Vos' spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, pointed out that the Assembly already has passed voter ID changes that would put the mandate back in effect. Still, she said Republicans in that chamber would be willing to approve them again. She didn't immediately respond to an email message asking about the chances of an extraordinary session.
Walker's pronouncement left Democratic lawmakers shaking their heads. Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said a special session would be a "complete waste of time." Whatever changes Republicans make to the bill will just end up in court again, he predicted.
Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said Walker simply wants to disenfranchise Democratic constituencies.
"This," she said, "is about restricting access to the ballot."