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Photo ID or not?

Will election officials ask to see your photo ID when you go to vote next week? The answer as of Monday afternoon was maybe or maybe not.

"The short story is photo ID is off," said Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm. He added, "At least temporarily."

St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell said she has sent information to the local clerks in her county "to let them know there's a chance (the photo ID requirement) may be in place for April 3."

But, Campbell said, she hopes it won't be because that would create confusion over what to do about absentee ballots that have already been cast or mailed without identification.

"What are they going to do with those absentee ballots that were returned without ID?" wondered Campbell. "I do feel bad for the clerks and election officials. One day it's this way, and one day, it's that way."

Still, at this point, said Campbell, "Clerks have been told they can't ask for it right now."

Earlier this month two Dane County judges, in separate decisions, ordered the state's Government Accountability Board, which supervises Wisconsin elections, not to implement or enforce the new photo ID law which was in effect during the February primaries. One judge issued a temporary injunction against enforcement. The other declared the photo ID requirement unconstitutional and ordered a permanent injunction.

But the state attorney general's office has asked the District 4 Court of Appeals to throw out the two circuit court judges' orders. The Department of Justice asked the appeals court to act swiftly -- which could mean this week or next Monday.

A communication sent to clerks last week, reports that GAB Director Kevin Kennedy asked the appeals court to delay delivering its opinions until after the April elections.

Kennedy said the GAB told the attorney general's office that it would be better if nothing changed before April 3. He said the elections agency doesn't "want the public in a yo-yo type situation.

The GAB has stopped running radio and television ads about bringing photo IDs to the polls, but is asking clerks to continue training their inspectors and poll workers on how to properly look for state-issued photo ID in case the law is suddenly reinstated.

Except for the photo ID requirement, said Campbell, other new regulations stay in effect. Those include requiring voters to sign the poll book, a 28-day residency requirement and a 5 p.m. Friday deadline for in-person casting of absentee ballots.

Feuerhelm reminded first-time voters or those who have moved that they still need to provide proof of residency, although that doesn't have to include a photo ID.

The ID law passed the Republican-led Legislature last spring despite complaints from several groups that it disenfranchised minority groups, the poor, students and senior citizens who might not have photo IDs. Acceptable IDs included state-issued ID cards, valid driver's licenses, U.S. passports, student IDs that expire within two years or military IDs.

Several groups -- including the NAACP of Milwaukee branch, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union -- have filed lawsuits challenging the law.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.