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Wisconsin voter ID works, with minor snags

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ST. PAUL - Minnesotans wondering how a proposed voter photo ID requirement may work can look across the border to Wisconsin, where early reports indicate implementation has mostly been smooth.

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The proposed constitutional amendment is one of the most controversial issues in the 2012 Minnesota legislative session, a year after the Badger State enacted a law that requires Wisconsin residents to show a photo identification, such as a driver's license, before voting.

A number of local primary elections - such as for county, city and school board - were held throughout Wisconsin last Tuesday, and voters were required for the first time to show identification before casting ballots.

"It was a good opportunity to break everything in," Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said. "It went relatively smoothly."

At the beginning, some poll workers initially forgot to ask for identification, he said, but that was soon corrected.

Others were "more vigilant than they should have been" in checking addresses, he said. In Wisconsin, the address on an ID doesn't need to match a voter's current one.

Kennedy spent time at several polling places, he said, and while a few people complained and one refused to show an ID, generally "people were prepared."

There was a low turnout Tuesday, Hudson City Clerk Nancy Korson noted.

"I don't know if it was a good test or not," she said. "But it went well for those people that did choose to come out."

A Republican-controlled Legislature and governor in Wisconsin passed the law last year creating a voter ID requirement.

In Minnesota, Republican lawmakers are working on a constitutional amendment requiring photo IDs. If approved by the Legislature, it would go directly to voters in a Nov. 6 vote. It likely will come before the full Senate in early March.

The photo ID bill already has received more than five and a half hours of public testimony at the Minnesota Legislature this year. Proponents have said it would cut down on voter fraud, while opponents warn it would make it difficult for some people to vote.

Wisconsinites had a first try at the new rule last summer. During recall elections, some polling places asked for identification as a trial, but if voters couldn't provide it they were still able to cast a ballot. They were given information reminding them that the law would soon take effect.

"We had a break-in period," River Falls Clerk Lu Ann Hecht said. "It kind of got phased in."

"We had a dry run with the recall elections, so it wasn't really a surprise to anybody" Tuesday," St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell echoed.

There was some confusion leading up to the elections about what would be accepted as proper identification, officials said, but educational campaigns helped clear it up.

The Minnesota bill states that voters would need a government-issued ID, such as a driver's license or passport. The state would provide free ID cards to those who need them.

Hecht said she does not foresee major issues in upcoming Wisconsin elections, even with expected bigger turnouts.

The bigger problem might be the time it takes to get results, she said. It could take more than a week for official vote counts because of provisional balloting, which allows people to vote and return to a clerk's office within a few days to show proper identification.

"The election doesn't get over is what's happening," Hecht said.

It also took a bit longer for voters to get through lines as they showed IDs and signed poll books, another new Wisconsin requirement.

"It's a lot of extra work on the voter's part just to be able to cast their ballot," Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm said.

Campbell, like others, predicted the process will improve with more education, time and experience.

"I just think it's going to be a learning year," she said.

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