Politics

Wisconsinites Scramble To Get Voter IDs In Seven Weeks Before Election

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Following a last-minute federal court ruling reinstating Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law, elections officials are rushing to get IDs out to eligible voters in time. In an attempt to make obtaining an ID before the election easier, the state announced that voters can apply for a free ID without showing a birth certificate. But out of all the lead plaintiffs in the American Civil Liberties Union’s case against the law, lawyers say only one will benefit from the new procedure.

Legal Director Larry Dupuis with the ACLU told ThinkProgress that only 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank will be helped by the new policy, “because she was born in Wisconsin, and we know her birth certificate exists even if she never possessed it,” he said, explaining that the DMV can now check the state’s Vital Records Office under the new procedure. “But for our other client, Shirley Brown, the new policy does nothing for people in her situation.”

Brown was born in Louisiana, delivered by a midwife at home. When she tried to apply for Medicare years earlier, she was told there was no birth certificate for her. While Wisconsin will now consider other documents, Dupuis said, “It could be a long process and we don’t know if the documents she does have from her childhood will satisfy the DMV, because they’re not directly on a list of things they say they will accept.”

After the Appeals Court ruled Friday to reinstate the controversial law, both the ACLU and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) filed a demand for the full 7th Circuit Court re-hear their case, saying the three-judge panel’s ruling “imposes a radical, last-minute change” that will “sow chaos at the polls.”

They wrote to the court: “It is not only unreasonable, but also mathematically, logically, and physically impossible that by November 4, hundreds of thousands of voters will learn about the need for ID, collect multiple required documents, get to a DMV office, and obtain the ID.”

Dupuis’ legal team estimates that the state would have to process and issue 6,000 photo IDs every day between now and November 4 in order to serve all 300 thousand residents who currently lack one. “The DMV system not set up to deal with a sudden surge of that magnitude,” he said.

The state’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has also expressed concern that the new policy won’t help their Latino members, many of whom were born in other states or other countries.

Darryl Morin, LULAC’s Midwest vice president who lives in Wisconsin, told ThinkProgress that simply accessing a local DMV could be a challenge for many. In rural areas without public transit how will those lacking a license get to an office? And even in urban areas, many DMVs have no evening or weekend hours.

“A lot of constituents we serve are economically challenged, so to take off work and get that is an additional burden,” he said.

One plaintiff in the case, a man who worked in food service in Milwaukee, had to take multiple days off work without pay in order to visit the DMV—a trip that required two buses. He was unable to obtain an ID even after going twice, because the office was still waiting for the military to verify and mail over his discharge papers.

Thousands like him across the state may face similar challenges. In 48 of the state’s 72 counties, an area that holds a full quarter of the state’s adult population, the DMV is only open two days a week, exclusively on weekdays. And if you live in Wittenberg or Minocqua, you have zero days between now and November 4 to visit and obtain a free ID. Since those lacking an ID are by definition unable to drive, traveling to the next closest location would be difficult or impossible.

“There are different kinds of access problems around the state,” said Dupuis. “It’s a series of hurdles that for middle class people don’t seem all that significant, but for those whose resources are more limited, it isn’t easy.”

The groups emphasized that the state’s seniors are also vulnerable, as a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study found that nearly 180,000 of them lack a photo ID, 70 percent of whom are women.

Following the court’s late Friday afternoon ruling, the Government Accountability Board began scrambling to implement the law, drafting guidance for the state’s thousands of county clerks and Elections Commissions.

Kevin Kennedy, the head of the agency, acknowledged at a news conference this week that it “will not be easy,” and noted: “The most pressing problem now is absentee ballots.”

That’s because several thousand have already been mailed out and a few hundred have already been filled out and submitted, but now they all must be accompanied by a copy of the voter’s ID.

“For those ballots that have already gone out, clerks will have to contact voters and inform them they need to submit a copy of their photo ID before their vote will be counted,” he explained. “Going forward, all absentee ballot requests will have to include a copy of the voter’s photo ID.”

The only people exempt from the requirement are military and overseas voters, as well as voters “indefinitely confined due to illness, age, or infirmity.”

But Darryl Morin with LULAC told ThinkProgress appealing the ruling is necessary, because he worries this “hastily-drawn procedure” will leave many voters, especially Latinos, behind.

“It would be a shame if we had to prove disenfranchisement after the fact, instead of preventing it in the first place,” he said. “It’s obvious that this is an effort to suppress minority votes. It is very discouraging.”

The 7th Circuit Court will decide whether to take up the case for another hearing next Tuesday.