Politics

This Is What Voter ID Laws Looks Like When They Hit Real People

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jaime Henry-White

Wisconsin once again has to defend its voter ID law in federal court, this time responding to a challenge to the law’s exclusion of veterans’ IDs, technical college IDs, and out-of-state drivers’ licenses.

Staff attorney Sean Young with the American Civil Liberties Union will argue before the federal district court in Milwaukee on Monday, asking them to allow these alternative IDs to be added to the state’s strict list of acceptable documents.

“Defenders of voter ID laws claim to care about verifying that voters are who they say they are. But these forms of ID do that,” Young told ThinkProgress. “They’re all verified by a state or federal government office. Wisconsin hasn’t given a single good reason in litigation for excluding these forms of ID. I think it calls to question the real purpose of these voter ID laws.”

One of the lead plaintiffs in the case is 56-year-old Army veteran Carl Ellis, who has been in and out of homeless shelters in Milwaukee, and whose only photo ID is the veteran card he uses to access medical benefits. After Governor Scott Walker signed the voter ID bill into law in 2011, he spent two years making trip after trip to both the DMV and the Social Security office before successfully obtaining a form of ID the state would accept at the polls. During the process, he had to ask a local nonprofit for the $5 he needed to get a copy of his birth certificate, and beg for bus fare. When he couldn’t afford the bus, Ellis would walk long distances to access these offices, even though he has a physical disability.

“We don’t think anyone who has risked their lives to protect our country and our fundamental rights should have to go through that,” said Young. “The government has already failed to adequately take of our veterans, and now they may have to suffer the further indignity of not being allowed to vote.”

Residents who live in the Wisconsin’s more rural counties may have even more difficulty than Ellis had obtaining an ID, as DMVs are only open two days a week and offer no after-work hours in more than half of the state’s counties.

The ACLU is also demanding Wisconsin accept student IDs from technical colleges, whose population is overwhelmingly lower income and more racially diverse than the University of Wisconsin system. Under the current law, technical college IDs are not accepted at the voting booth, but IDs from the state’s four-year colleges and universities are valid.

“Several hundred thousand technical college students in Wisconsin are basically being treated as inferior,” said Young. “Wisconsin statute says explicitly that the purpose of technical college is to ‘address barriers created by stereotyping and discrimination and assist minorities,’ so it’s ironic to force these students to go through some separate but equal procedure.”

The ACLU is also demanding the state accept out-of-state drivers licenses, arguing that voters currently have to pay a $28 fee to exchange their license for a Wisconsin one. Young called this a “poll tax.”

Besides asking the court to force Wisconsin to accept these alternate forms of ID, the plaintiffs are also asking the state to allow individuals who have struggled to obtain an ID to sign an affidavit — a process currently allowed in Michigan, Idaho, and Kentucky.

Though the court could deliver its verdict at any time, voting rights advocates are pushing for a decision well in advance of the February primary, to allow time to inform residents about what they need to do in order to cast a ballot.

Wisconsin activists have shared with ThinkProgress their fears that the voter ID law will sow confusion among voters — exacerbated by the fact that the state has allocated almost no money to educate the population on what is and is not required. The years of court rulings alternately striking down and upholding the law have only added to this confusion.

“This law was meant to disenfranchise people of color, poor people, people with disabilities, people without transportation,” Anita Johnson, a plaintiff in another lawsuit against Governor Walker’s ID law, told ThinkProgress in June. “It appears the people who put this law in place want to stay in power, and the only way they can stay in power is to make sure that only their people get to the polls.”