Tag Archives: photo ids

Judge orders probe of state’s failure to issue photo IDs to voters

A federal judge has ordered the state of Wisconsin to investigate reports that transportation workers are failing to issue temporary photo IDs for voting, as required by law.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson issued his order around the same time a civil liberties group filed a motion in a separate case demanding a federal appellate court invalidate voter ID requirements in Wisconsin because the state hasn’t abided by its pledge.

Under Wisconsin law, voters must show a form of government-approved photo identification at the polls. People who lack such identification can obtain free photo IDs at state Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles field offices.

The agency in May announced that people who want IDs but lack the underlying supporting documents such as birth certificates could get a receipt valid for voting. The move was designed to blunt a pair of lawsuits alleging that voters who lack such documents face tough challenges in obtaining free photo IDs.

Peterson ruled in July that the DOT’s petition process to obtain the receipt was a “wretched failure” because it still left black and Hispanic citizens unable to obtain IDs. He ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone who enters the petition process but lack the necessary documents, including birth certificates.

The Nation published a story last week alleging that DMV workers at a field office told a man named Zack Moore that he couldn’t obtain a temporary ID because he lacked a birth certificate and that the way IDs were being handled was still up in the air. The story went on to say that Molly McGrath, the national campaign coordinator with VoteRiders, visited 10 DMV stations where employees gave people a wide range of answers about how long it would take to get an ID.

Moore tried to obtain his ID on Sept. 22. That was the same day Attorney General Brad Schimel filed an update with Peterson saying all DMV field staff had been trained to ensure anyone who fills out an application to enter the petition process will get an ID mailed to them within six days.

“These reports, if true, demonstrate that the state is not in compliance with this court’s … order, which requires the state to ‘promptly issue a credential valid as a voting ID to any person who enters (the petition process) or who has a petition pending,”” Peterson wrote.

He ordered the state to investigate and report back to him by Oct. 7.

Transportation spokeswoman Patricia Mayers called the stories of problems at the DMV offices “concerning and … not consistent with DMV protocol.” She said the agency has already launched an investigation and will report its findings to Peterson, as ordered.

“DMV remains committed to working with all eligible voters to ensure they receive free identification, as required for voting,” she wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in a separate voter ID challenge before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The motion alleges that the DOT isn’t issuing voting credentials to people in the petition process and has violated its promise that anyone who goes to the DMV for photo IDs will get an ID with whatever documents they possess.

The ACLU alleged that DMV workers have failed to tell applicants the petition process exists, that applicants have had to make multiple visits to DMV offices and that workers have incorrectly told people that in order to begin the petition process, they need proof of identity such as a social security card — which can’t be obtained without a photo ID. As many as 1,640 eligible voters in Milwaukee County lack both ID and a Social Security card, the ALCU alleged.

The group also claimed that people who present birth certificates with misspellings haven’t been allowed to enter the process and DMV field offices offer limited hours. The motion asks the court allow voters who lack photo IDs to cast ballots by affidavit or completely invalidate the voter ID law.

“People who have started (the petition process) are supposed to get a temporary ID but as we’re seeing on the ground that’s not happening,” ACLU attorney Sean Young said in a telephone interview. “DMV employees aren’t implementing their own procedures. DMV cannot be trusted to this correctly.”

The state Department of Justice is defending the voter ID law in the case. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said agency attorneys are reviewing the ACLU’s filing.

— By Todd Richmond, AP writer

‘ID lady’ fights to get photo IDs for Wisconsin voters

Wearing a black T-shirt, with large block letters on one side saying “Ask Me” and “About Voter ID” on the other, Molly McGrath moved back to her native state of Wisconsin last year with the mission of helping people get the photo IDs needed to vote.

They call her the “ID Lady.”

McGrath navigates homeless people through the voter registration form, helps people new to Wisconsin get an in-state driver’s license, arranges free cab rides to the DMV and even personally drives people to where they can get photo IDs.

She also helps explain the complex and seemingly ever-changing election laws in Wisconsin. This will be the first presidential election where voters are required to show photo IDs, a law passed by Republicans that has survived a series of court challenges.

“There’s a tremendous amount of unawareness and confusion about the law,” McGrath said on a late summer morning inside a church near the state Capitol where she was helping a steady stream of people register. “You can’t help but think, is this confusion a bug or part of the design?”

Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who swept into power in 2011 quickly passed a law requiring photo IDs  at the polls, arguing it was needed to combat fraud despite scant evidence of any widespread voting irregularities.

They didn’t stop there.

They also restricted early voting hours to the two weeks before an election with no weekend hours and a limit of one location per municipality. That was a particular blow to Milwaukee and Madison, the state’s two largest and most Democratic cities, which had expansive early voting.

Liberals fought the changes and in July won big when a federal court struck down more than a dozen Wisconsin election laws championed by Walker and Republicans. The judge said limits on early voting times and locations “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.”

“I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose,” Judge James Peterson said.

Madison and Milwaukee moved quickly to begin early voting as soon as Monday.

And while he didn’t strike down the photo ID law, Peterson did require the state’s DMV to quickly issue credentials to anyone trying to obtain free photo IDs but lacking the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, needed to get it. A federal appeals court has put on hold a separate ruling that would have allowed those without IDs to sign affidavits at the polls attesting to their identity.

Both sides are bracing for a close election, where turnout — or the lack of acceptable photo IDs for a large number of voters — could tip the scales.

In a 2014 ruling striking down the voter ID law, which was later overturned, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman estimated that 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin lacked a required ID. For context, Walker won re-election in 2014 by about 137,000 votes and Ron Johnson defeated Russ Feingold in the 2010 Senate race by just over 105,000 votes.

And in 2000 and 2004 the presidential race was decided by the tiniest of margins _ about 6,000 votes in 2000 and 11,000 in 2004.

The latest Marquette University Law School poll showed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running about even in the state. It also showed the hotly contested Senate race between incumbent Johnson and Feingold to be within the margin of error.

That makes every vote all the more crucial. The state Elections Commission is trying to spread the word about the law with radio and TV public service announcements, online display and video ads, pre-show advertising at movie theaters, bus ads and Facebook ads.

Campaigns, political parties and advocates like VoteRiders are also trying to spread the word to people like Duane Dahl. He didn’t have a photo ID until McGrath came along. She works with VoteRiders, which helps low-income and people of color get IDs and registered to vote.

Dahl, who has been homeless at times in Madison, said he was confused about the laws, what he needed to get an ID, and where to go. But in March he got his ID and voted in primaries in April and August.

“I got lucky,” Dahl said. “Other people have had a huge struggle trying to get ID.”

Matthew Kurtz, 45, is homeless and hasn’t voted since he was 18. After helping him register, McGrath reminded him he’ll need his ID on Election Day to actually cast a ballot.

Dahl said he’ll pay more attention to politics now that he can actually have a say in who gets elected.

“If you don’t vote you don’t have a right to be crying or complaining,” Dahl said.

Vietnam veteran Mike Battles, 70, said he’s voted in “every election since Johnson.” He has an ID and is registered to vote, but he recently moved. Battles sought McGrath’s help in getting his registration changed so he can vote at his new address.

Battles said he was motivated to vote for Clinton.

“I don’t want to see Trump elected because the middle class and lower will suffer,” he said.

While McGrath is passionate about her work she tries to remain nonpartisan. When another potential voter tells McGrath “I’m scared of Trump” she laughs it off.

“I don’t care who you vote for,” she says, “as long as you vote.”

Wisconsin OKs voter registration mailings beginning this month

Wisconsin election officials approved mailing postcards to more than a million people telling them how to register to vote, marking the largest mailing outreach effort they’ve ever attempted.

The state Elections Commission had no choice but to launch the project.

Legislators passed a law earlier this year requiring Wisconsin to join a multi-state consortium called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which works to identify eligible voters who haven’t registered.

Twenty states make up the group, including Minnesota and Illinois.

The consortium requires members to reach out to eligible people who may not be registered every two years before Oct. 1. Commission staff told members in late August that ERIC will supply a list of those who haven’t registered by matching state registration records with lists of driver’s license and state-issued photo ID holders.

The staff then plans to send those people a postcard telling them how to register.

ERIC has told the commission to expect to mail out 1 million to 1.5 million cards based on experiences in other states, an estimate that seems to dovetail with Wisconsin’s demographics.

Census data show about 4.4 million people of voting age here; of those, about 3.4 million are registered voters, WEC spokesman Reid Magney said.

The project is the largest mailing state election officials have ever undertaken.

The next largest was 70,000 letters the commission’s predecessor agency, the Government Accountability Board, sent out in 2009 to double-check registration data, Magney said.

The ERIC mailing is expected to cost about $260,000. Up to half of the cost will be funded with a grant of up to $150,000 from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Federal dollars will cover remaining costs.

The commission expects to begin the mailings in late September.

Commission members approved the mailing effort unanimously after debating whether to include a notification on the postcards that voters must show photo IDs at the polls. The panel scrapped the idea after the commission’s attorney, Nathan Judnic, argued that too much information on the card could muddle the registration message and Commissioner Julie Glancey pointed out the mailings are going to people who already have photo IDs.

The commission plans to begin the mailings in late September, giving recipients several weeks to take action before open registration ends on Oct. 19.

People can still register at the polls on Election Day, which falls on Nov. 8.

The commission also voted unanimously to contract with a Milwaukee call center to field calls from confused postcard recipients.

Magney said operators will provide 24-hour service and work from a script that commission staff prepares.

The cost is unclear.

The center charges 61.5 cents per minute spent on the phone, so total costs will depend on the number and length of calls.

Magney said the commission will pay the center with federal Help America Vote Act dollars.