MADISON - Wisconsin's proposed voter ID law will be less expensive, less susceptible to fraud and less likely to face legal challenges if student badges are included as an acceptable form of identification, an elections expert told lawmakers Thursday.
Speaking for himself and three University of Wisconsin colleagues, UW-Madison political scientist David Canon told the Assembly Committee on Election and Campaign Reform that he's not taking a stance on whether the Legislature should require that voters present a valid photo identification card - just making suggestions on how to write a law that protects the integrity of elections, limits legal challenges and keeps the costs down.
"You already have tens of thousands of these IDs being produced by the state (at UW campuses)," he said. "So why duplicate the state's efforts in terms of having (students) go out and get another free ID at a cost to the state?"
Voters would be required to present a valid ID, such as a Wisconsin driver's license or a military ID card, to vote if the Senate Voter ID bill becomes law. Student IDs are not a valid form of voter identification under the Senate bill.
Assembly members said Thursday they are drafting their own legislation.
Proponents say the legislation would limit voter fraud. Opponents argue that the Republican-led bill would disenfranchise voters such as poor people and college students who are less likely to have a Wisconsin driver's license or other type of photo ID accepted under the proposed law, and that the requirement would stymie political participation.
Ardis Cerny of We're Watching Wisconsin Elections, an elections-focused group that supports the voter ID proposal, noted that students always can submit an absentee ballot where their parents live.
"If they want to be a (Wisconsin resident), they either have to get an ID or a driver's license," Cerny said. "We feel that they will have to make a choice."
Allowing student badges as a valid voter identification potentially would make it easier for thousands of students to vote - and not just in Madison.
Under the Senate legislation, a Wisconsin driver's license that includes a voter's former address still would be considered valid, according to the Legislative Council's office. Therefore, Wisconsin college students who grew up in the state potentially could use their original driver's license as an acceptable form of ID.
But thousands of out-of-state students, including Minnesotans, would need to obtain a Wisconsin ID in order to vote here. Wisconsin state law requires a residency period of 10 days before voting.
At Viterbo University in La Crosse, 33 percent of the its 1,875 undergraduates come from outside of Wisconsin.
At UW-La Crosse, 19 percent of all students are from out of state.
Canon said that UW IDs, which include a double bar code, are actually "harder to counterfeit than just about any other kind of ID out there."
As for foreign students, they can get a state driver's license, but the Department of Transportation doesn't keep track of their foreign status, he said.
"There's no way to find out that person's not a citizen," he said. "They can take that ID and go vote."
Universities, however, know exactly who the foreign students are, and that information easily can be traced from student IDs, Canon said.
As for other legal and monetary concerns, Canon said not allowing student IDs would make Wisconsin's voter ID law the toughest in the country, which would invite legal challenges.
And the law could be written so that non-UW schools would be required to meet the UW student ID standard for their student cards to be considered valid for voting purposes, Canon said.