Politics

Students And Veterans Turned Away From The Polls Under Wisconsin’s New Voter ID Law

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jaime Henry-White

Wisconsin’s local primary election put the state’s new voter ID law to the test Tuesday, causing problems that left officials seriously concerned about how voters will be impacted this November.

The election decided several mayoral contests and helped conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley clear a key hurdle to maintaining her seat on the state’s powerful Supreme Court.

The law will be in place again for the presidential primary on April 5, which is likely to see greater voter turnout. But even in Tuesday’s local election, issues with ID arose.

Though the law’s implementation was mostly smooth, some students and veterans were unable to cast regular ballots, because the state doesn’t recognize a federal veterans’ benefits card or a state university ID for voting purposes.

After few overall complaints came in, Gov. Scott Walker (R) tweeted that all was well in the Badger State.

Yet local media reported that turnout was extremely low — in the single digits in some counties.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, whose county includes the University of Wisconsin’s tens of thousands of students, strongly disagreed with Governor Walker that all is well with the new ID law.

“We did hear of one veteran who was turned away because all he had was his military ID,” Parisi told ThinkProgress. “Student participation was also very low, and among those who turned out, some didn’t have the proper ID. About 15 or 16 young people had to cast provisional ballots in Dane County.” Such ballots are often never counted.

Students also reported problems in Eau Claire. University of Wisconsin freshman Nathan Gilger, who was initially turned away for having an out-of-state drivers license, told local reporters, “I definitely see the new I.D. requirement as a deterrent. It feels more like a chore to vote.”

Unlike New Hampshire and a handful of other states, Wisconsin does not count either a college ID or a veterans’ benefits card as an acceptable voter ID. A lawsuit aimed at forcing to the state to accept these alternate forms of ID failed last year.

That ruling, in October, was yet another chapter in the multi-year legal saga around the Wisconsin voter ID law championed by Governor Walker as he explored an ultimately unsuccessful bid for president. Over the last few years, the law has been struck down by some courts for unconstitutionally burdening voters of color, and upheld by others, ultimately getting the go-ahead from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leading up to Tuesday, residents were also concerned about the new voter ID law creating delays at polling places. County clerks teamed up with university students to clock how long it took poll workers to check IDs, and the results were troubling.

“It did definitely slow down the processing time,” said Parisi. “It’s not as big a deal in a spring primary election, where there is low turnout and short lines, but it’s concerning when we look forward to the fall presidential election. Extremely long lines can discourage people from voting, and now we’re adding this other element, which is only going to hurt that process.”

Parisi and voting rights advocates in the state are also raising concerns about a new bill the Republican-controlled legislature passed this week. That bill would offer residents the ability to register to vote online, but would eliminate a program that holds voter registration drives at senior centers, college campuses, and community events. It would also mandate that all absentee ballots that don’t arrive to the proper office by election day be thrown out. Currently, those ballots are counted as long as they are post-marked by election day.

“They gave with one hand and took away with another,” Parisi said of the state’s lawmakers. “This is just another in a long line of Republican legislation that make it harder for students, the elderly, and people in poverty to vote.”