The recent voter identification law passed by Wisconsin Republicans and signed into law by Republican Gov. Scott Walker contained a stipulation that residents without valid identification could get a free voter-only ID at any Department of Motor Vehicles location. To obtain the free version of the ID, voters must check a box saying that they are asking for a product “available for free issuance.” Otherwise, they would be issued an ID at its regular cost of $28.
The form, it seems, makes no specific reference to a free voter ID, and applicants are expected to know that the vote-only IDs are offered free of charge. And according to a memo, obtained by the Madison Capital Times, circulated by a top official at the state’s Department of Transportation, DMV staff has been instructed not to mention the free vote-only IDs to patrons unless they specifically ask for one:
Interviews conducted about the memo suggest the state is more interested in continuing to charge the fee, which is required for a photo ID used for non-voting purposes, than it is in removing all barriers and providing easy access to a free, photo ID.
“While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it,” Krieser writes to employees.
Krieser, who was recently promoted to executive assistant to the DOT secretary, instructs staff that customers should “self certify” their eligibility for the free ID. They can do that, he writes, if they meet the documentation requirements; if they are at least 17 years old; if they have checked the correct certification box on the new forms; and, most significantly, if they are “asking for a product that is available for free issuance.”
Steve Krieser, who wrote the memo, defended it when the Capital Times asked about it Tuesday. “If the person initiates that direction, then certainly, we will help them. We will not be coy,” Krieser told the Times. “But we still are not going to be selling it at the counter as a free ID.” According to Wisconsin officials, the state plans to launch a major education initiative later this year to let residents know about the free IDs, and in the meantime, Krieser said, the Dept. of Transportation will place signs letting people know about the IDs, though the signs have not yet been approved. More than 18,000 Wisconsinites have received new IDs since July 1, when DMV began offering the free version, and 59 percent of those were at no cost, though it unknown how many IDs were paid for that could have been obtained for free.
The problems with voter ID laws in Wisconsin and other states are already becoming apparent. In South Carolina, the U.S. Department of Justice has put a hold on the state’s new law until officials prove it isn’t discriminatory, and Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has promised to use state funds to drive any of the state’s 178,000 residents without an ID to DMV locations to get one. In Wisconsin, Walker planned to close 10 DMV offices, only to backtrack when he came under pressure.
To state Democrats and voting rights advocates, the memo is proof that the voter ID law was a clear Republican effort to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters (though not the first, as the GOP has admitted that its union-busting budget “fix” earlier this year was, at least in part, meant to curb unions’ electoral efforts). “It was clear to me from the beginning that people would be disenfranchised because of this law,” state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D) told the Times. “Now we have the proof that people are not going to be getting these IDs unless the say the ‘magic words.’”