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Divided council rejects voter ID referendum

Initiative will have to come from residents

July 22, 2009

Residents who want to see an advisory referendum on requiring state-issued ID for voters appear on the ballot will have to bring back a petition to that effect, the Common Council decided Tuesday night.

After a 7-7 vote that was broken by Mayor Jill Didier, the council decided not to take any action on the issue. Instead, they're leaving it to their constituents to determine if they feel strongly enough about the issue to initiate a referendum.

Tuesday's action comes one week after a council committee directed the city attorney to draft a referendum question that would have appeared on the ballot next year. The non-binding referendum would have asked whether Wisconsin should require all voters to show a state-issued ID before they cast their ballots.

But those who shot down the idea said such an initiative should come directly from the residents - not city officials.

"If the people want it, they need to go out and do the petition," Didier said, adding that elected officials have more pressing and pertinent tasks to tackle.

Two ways to get on ballot

Opponents of the referendum noted that the issue is not within the city's jurisdiction, but they did not want to close the door on any resident-initiated direct legislation, a procedure by which voters may compel the council to put the proposed ordinance or resolution before the public for a popular vote.

A direct-legislation petition would have to have 3,656 signatures, or 15 percent of the number of votes cast by Wauwatosa residents in the last election for governor, City Attorney Alan Kesner said. Any resident would have 60 days to collect petition signatures and a petition would have to be turned in 42 days prior to an election.

Alderman Peter Donegan said he feared a voter ID referendum could lead to similar referendums on federal and state issues like health care reform, the war in Afghanistan and Social Security. He said it was not appropriate for the city to take action because "one of us has strong feelings on an issue over which we have no direct legislation," referring to Alderwoman Jacqueline Jay, who brought the issue before the council.

Backers worry about fraud

Jay said she is hardly alone in her concerns that voter fraud is being committed - maybe not in Wauwatosa, but by voters in other municipalities that cast ballots in the same county, state and federal elections. She said she had heard from 27 Wauwatosa residents in favor of a referendum and six against.

She was supported by Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan, who said many people she has spoken to wrongly believe a referendum would be telling the state that Wauwatosa is going to become an "island of voter ID" requiring them on election days regardless of what the state wants.

Once she explains the real purpose of a referendum, most people are for putting it on a ballot, she said.

Common Council President James Krol said he also agrees state-issued IDs should be mandatory at the polls, but said a city election was not the venue to promote that.

Rather, Wauwatosa residents should directly contact their state legislators with their opinions, he said.

AT A GLANCE

How Common Council members voted on the issue:

For a referendum: Aldermen Cheryl Berdan, Don Birschel, Robert Dennik, Brian Ewerdt, Tim Hanson, Thomas Herzog and Jacqueline Jay

Against a referendum: Aldermen Peter Donegan, James Krol, Dennis McBride, Eric Meaux, Linda Nikcevich, Jerry Stepaniak and Michael Walsh, and Mayor Jill Dider

Absent: Aldermen Jill Organ and Jason Wilke

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