"We need to remind voters:" GAB asks for $460K for campaign to educate voters on Voter ID Law

MADISON (WITI) -- The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has asked the Legislature to release $460,800 in already-appropriated funds for a statewide TV, radio and online campaign to educate voters about the Voter ID Law that will be in effect for the November 4th general election.

“Now that voter photo ID is back in place, we need to remind voters to bring their IDs to the polling place,” said Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin’s chief election official. “We also need to let people know how they can get a free state ID for voting, even if they don’t have their birth certificate.”

The “Bring It to the Ballot” multimedia ad campaign that ran briefly in early 2012 is updated and ready to go, but needs funding to get on the air, said Kennedy, director and general counsel of the G.A.B.

“The campaign’s message is that most people already have the ID they need to vote,” Kennedy said. “If they don’t have one, they can get a free ID for voting at the DMV, even if they don’t have some documents like a birth certificate.”

The campaign is designed to raise awareness and encourage the public to go to a website (BringIt.Wisconsin.gov) where they can learn more about what IDs are acceptable and how they can get a free ID if they need one for voting. The campaign’s TV and radio ads, short videos and printable brochures are available on the website.

Before the Voter Photo ID Law was stopped by the courts in 2012, the G.A.B.’s plan was to use a low-cost, paid-public service announcement program offered by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association throughout 2012, as well as online ads, outdoor billboards and some newspaper advertising. After the injunction in March 2012, the G.A.B. was prohibited from implementing the law, and had to shut down the ad campaign.

Since the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the remaining federal court injunction on September 12, 2014, the G.A.B. has been working on plans to restart the campaign, but has limited funds.

“There is very little time left to reach out to the public,” Kennedy said. “The low-cost program from broadcasters cannot be guaranteed to effectively reach voters so close to the election, so we need to buy advertising at market rates.”

Wisconsin’s 2013-15 biennial budget included $460,800 for five project positions for the G.A.B. to implement voter photo ID, which would be held in the Joint Committee on Finance’s supplemental appropriation in the event the court injunctions were lifted.

Kennedy said it would be impractical to hire additional staff now, and the best use of the funds would be for an intensive public education campaign on TV, radio and online before the November election.  The Voter Photo ID Law directed the G.A.B. to conduct a public information campaign before the first primary and general election that the requirement was in place.

The G.A.B.’s funding request was submitted to the Joint Committee on Finance, which has not yet scheduled its quarterly meeting to consider supplemental funding requests from state agencies. “If the committee acts expeditiously the agency should be able to implement a viable public information media campaign,” Kennedy said.

A copy of the detailed funding request is available with this news release on the G.A.B. website: gab.wi.gov/news.

In the meantime, the G.A.B. is working with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association to purchase two weeks of paid public service announcement time at a cost of $18,000, using limited existing agency funds. The PSAs could begin airing on Wisconsin TV and radio stations as early as Thursday, October 2nd, according to WBA.

State Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) says there's a better way to spend that $460,800. Rep. Mason says he worries voters without an ID don't have enough access to DMVs.

Rep. Mason is a member of the Joint Committee on Finance -- which will handle the G.A.B.'s request.

The committee's co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) released a statement on Wednesday, October 1st:

"This has been and will continue to be about voter integrity. We look forward to the G.A.B.'s presentation, and are encouraged that their request no longer includes additional state employees."

Rep. Mason says he wonders whether the state should instead spend the money on extending hours at DMV locations statewide.

"Telling them about it, if you don`t actually create access to those DMV centers to be able to get that ID -- unless you can take off or work or travel, sometimes cross county lines to get that ID, is little solace for those voters who may be disenfranchised," Rep. Mason said.

Meanwhile -- Congresswoman Gwen Moore on Wednesday announced she has issued a letter to the G.A.B. in response to concerns over the G.A.B.'s plan to require photo-copied IDs from voters who were mailed absentee ballots.

The letter reads as follows:

"I am writing to express my concern with the Government Accountability Board (GAB)’s plan to require photocopied identifications from over 11,000 voters who were mailed absentee ballots prior to the recent court decision that allowed for the implementation of Act 23 in this election. I fear that the GAB guidance on this matter is inadequate and will result in thousands of Wisconsin voters being disenfranchised.  

From a lack of access to dependable transportation and matters of convenience to those with serious physical limitations, voters who choose to vote absentee, often do this for a number of different reasons. As a result, we know it will be more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for many of these absentee voters to come into compliance with the requirements of Act 23.  

That is why I am skeptical of the GAB’s current plan to write letters to the 11,000 voters who have already been issued absentee ballots to request that they provide photocopied photo identification with their returned absentee ballot. Even if these letters reach all 11,000 voters, these voters now have received contradictory information from the GAB on how to cast their ballot. Given how important it is that every vote is counted, will there any follow-up communication with these absentee voters to ensure they received the new instructions for proper absentee ballot submission? Will the GAB consider being flexible with this photo ID requirement with those voters they cannot reach and how rigorous will these outreach efforts be on your part? Additionally, I have read news accounts claiming that the GAB will invalidate absentee ballots that have already been submitted that do not include a photocopy of an ID. Will the GAB notify those voters that their ballots will not be counted?

I would appreciate a prompt written response to each of my questions. The right to vote is paramount, and I believe that the burden is on the GAB to ensure that such an abrupt and burdensome electoral law change reflected in Act 23 is done in proper way to ensure that not one Wisconsin citizen is inadvertently denied their basic right to vote.  

Gwen Moore"

CLICK HERE for complete coverage of the Voter ID Law via FOX6Now.com.