When Wisconsin citizens go to the polls next year, they will be asked to provide photo identification for the first time in the state’s history. If they don’t have an acceptable form of photo ID, they will not be allowed to vote.
Because many residents lack photo IDs, especially poorer and rural citizens, over 3 million people could be disenfranchised in the 2012 election, according to a nonpartisan Brennan Center study. Though Wisconsin offers a “free” photo ID to its residents, a birth certificate is necessary in order to obtain it, copies of which cost at least $20. This requirement creates a major barrier for many citizens, including Ruthelle Frank, an 84-year-old Wisconsin woman who, because of a difficult home birth, doesn’t have an official birth certificate and now must pay as much as $200 to get one simply to satisfy the “free” photo ID requirements.
However, if Wisconsin residents like Frank go online to print out the birth certificate application, the form asks at the top for “CURRENT VALID PHOTO ID” and “PHOTO ID NUMBER”. In other words, citizens simply looking to vote are led to believe they are caught in a catch-22: you need a birth certificate to get a photo ID, but you need a photo ID to get a birth certificate.
On the explanatory page attached to the application, it clarifies that a photo ID is indeed not required to get a copy of one’s birth certificate. However, this fact is obscured at the bottom of a long page of text and located far from the original request for photo ID. It is no stretch to imagine that the average Wisconsinite will read the topline demand for a current valid photo ID and, because she lacks one, will assume she is unable to get a birth certificate and unable to vote.
Wisconsin officials are aware of the problem, yet appear in no hurry to remedy it. On Wisconsin’s GetVoterID.org, one page includes the following message (bolding is ours):
IMPORTANT! The form available for download may be out of date or give misinformation, including forms on the Vital Records web site itself. Despite what any form you obtain may state, you do not have to attach a copy of a valid photo ID to obtain a birth certificate by mail. There are many forms out there that have a page of instructions that erroneously require a copy of a photo ID to accompany the application
Fixing the form and uploading a corrected version could be done in the time it takes to brew the first pot of coffee. Yet a full six months after Wisconsin’s new voter ID law was passed, the misleading form remains on a host of state government websites. As Dane 101 notes, the Election Division of the Government Accountability Board, the Department of Health Services, and the Wisconsin Register of Deeds Association all provide the incorrect application.
Providing forms riddled with “misinformation,” as Wisconsin has done in this case, is unacceptable. It is unclear how many Wisconsinites have already given up trying to get a birth certificate because the application seemingly required a photo ID.
This is an entirely preventable problem, yet one that persists six months after Wisconsin enacted stringent new barriers on the right to vote.