Facing ‘Mass Confusion,’ Wisconsin Delays Contentious Voter ID Law

CREDIT: AP
CREDIT: AP

When the Supreme Court refused to accept a challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, allowing it to go into effect, voting rights groups in the state sounded the alarm that voters would be disenfranchised if the state rushed to implement the law by the April 7 municipal election.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed an emergency motion to block enforcement of the law, and the state relented, agreeing to put off the law until 2016.

“It buys a little time to sort through this, and there’s more time for voters to obtain ID,” Karyn Rotker, an attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin, told ThinkProgress. “Right now there’s mass confusion out there so I hope the state conducts some serious and extensive outreach, including some level of individual notice.”

That confusion could impact the elections coming up in the state in just a few weeks. Rotker and other rights advocates say they’re concerned some election officials and poll workers — many of whom are volunteers with little training — won’t know all the details of the new law and may improperly turn away eligible voters. In 2012, poll workers in Wisconsin improperly demanded voters present an ID, and other issues abounded.

“If you’re using a drivers’ license as your ID, the only thing they’re supposed to check is your name and photo,” said Rotker. “But some poll workers and clerks thought IDs were invalid if the person had moved and the address on the license didn’t match. Voters were even incorrectly told to re-register at the address on their license even if it wasn’t their current address.”

Rotker said even though the state has rolled out a procedure for people who can’t find their birth certificates to get a voter ID, it will be burdensome or impossible for some of the hundreds of thousands of registered voters who lack ID to cast a ballot.

“This disproportionately hurts people of color, people with limited education, low income people, and people with disabilities,” said Rotker. “People who don’t have a license and can’t drive have to get to a DMV to get an ID. Many are not accessible by public transit or cabs, especially in rural communities. Nearly all are closed on weekends and at night. If you’re a low wage worker who doesn’t have a car and doesn’t get time off work, how can you get there? We are really concerned that people may give up because they can’t figure out how to access it. “

The ACLU and other voting rights and civil rights groups in the state say they will closely monitor the implementation of the law and document any instances of voter suppression as they considering bringing another legal challenge in the future.

Darryl Morin, the Midwest vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), told ThinkProgress that he and his members are demanding the Wisconsin legislature pass a bill to fund efforts to adequately educate voters and officials alike.

“We want to see legislation pass that helps facilitate people acquiring an ID,” he said. “It should at least make sure DMVs add additional days and hours before an elections. Some are only open one day a month.”

Morin added that the state must educate the population about who is exempt from the law, including residents who live overseas or serve in the military, or who are “confined to the home” due to their age or a disability.

A Wisconsin resident, Morin said he’s “very disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s decision, but hopes that the high court will hear pending cases from other states on the constitutionality of voter ID.

“Democracy is best served when all citizens are able to participate,” he said. “It’s incontrovertible that these laws have a negative impact on turnout for minority communities, which is not healthy for any democracy. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican that should not be palatable.”