MADISON, Wisconsin The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a Republican-backed bill on Wednesday that will stiffen requirements for voter identification at polling places and was decried by Democrats as targeting their constituents.
The Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 60-35 and sent it on to the Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans. Democrats introduced more than 50 amendments, all of which failed.
The measure was expected to further split the partisan divisions in the state after the recent bruising battle over newly elected Republican governor Scott Walker's successful campaign to weaken public sector union bargaining rights.
Democrats said the new measure, which will require voters to show an approved photo ID before receiving their ballot, was aimed at discouraging many of their constituents, especially college students, rather than addressing vote fraud, which they said was not a serious problem in the state.
Under the legislation, voters will have to present a valid driver's license, passport, naturalization papers or tribal ID to obtain a ballot. Student IDs are allowed but will need a current address, birth date, signature and expiration date.
No college ID used in the state, including the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, now meets those standards, opponents said. They also argued that the new rules will cost millions of dollars to implement.
Assembly Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder said the bill should not be a partisan issue because it is about protecting voter integrity.
"We are trying to make it more difficult to cheat," Suder said.
But Democrats said the effect of the measure would be to discourage the poor, elderly or transient populations like students not to vote.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca had asked Republicans to pay attention to Democratic amendments as debate started on the bill, saying the legislation would add a wide range of new impediments to voting.
"Push those red buttons once in a while. Show some independence," Barca said. "We can make this a better bill; at least a constitutional bill."
He said passing the bill without amendments would only ensure lawmakers that it would end up in court. He said Republicans should also be open to changes that would decrease the fiscal burden on the state.
"It's a sad day," said Rep. Robert Turner, a Democrat, who said the bill would disproportionately affect individuals of color, senior citizens and students.
(Reporting by Jeff Mayers. Editing by Peter Bohan)