Tag Archives: wisconsin voter id law

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

U.S. Rep. Moore asks Wisconsin to hold off on voter ID law

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore is calling on the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board to wait until after the general election to implement the state voter ID law.

The Democratic representative from Milwaukee made the request in a letter to Kevin J. Kennedy, director and general counsel for GAB. She wrote as the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin asked for a full federal appeals court review of the ruling that removed the injunction against the voter ID law, Act 23.

That decision by a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for the GAB and the Walker administration to enforce the law in the midterm elections, even though the election process already is underway.

Advocates of the law say it will help protect the integrity of the voting process. The measure passed in 2011 requires voters to show government-issued photo IDs — driver’s licenses, state ID cards, some college student and military IDs, passports and naturalization certificates or IDs issued by a Wisconsin-based American Indian tribe.

Opponents maintain that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and will make it difficult — or impossible — for some citizens to exercise their right to vote. Critics also say requiring people to acquire certain IDs amounts to a poll tax.

Moore has opposed the legislation. And in her letter, she asked that the GAB at least wait to implement the controversial act until after the Nov. 4 election because of “the irreparable harm and mass confusion it will cause.”

She wrote, “Enforcing Act 23 for the November election will … cause widespread confusion for voters and election officials. Until the Seventh Circuit decision … it is my understanding that election officials were operating under the assumption that no voter ID law would be in place. For example, it has been reported that over 11,000 absentee ballots have already been mailed without voter ID instructions. Further, it would be a tremendous burden on the state to sufficiently train 1,852 municipal clerks and countless poll workers before the election.”

Moore continued, “It is also disturbing that there have been no public education efforts on voter ID for over two years, and many of my constituents in the 4th Congressional District are unaware that they will need to obtain an ID. Moreover, the new ‘free ID’ guidance, in response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, is untested and likely to be insufficient to provide IDs to everyone who is lacking in light of the short time frame.”

The congresswoman, not alone among Democrats in objecting to the law, said it would be irresponsible to proceed with the change before the election.

Federal appeals court lifts stay against Wisconsin voter ID law

A federal appeals court in Chicago reinstated Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law on Sept. 12, just hours after three Republican-appointed judges heard arguments on reactivating the hotly debated law in time for the November election.

While reinstating the law on Sept. 12, the court did not issue a full opinion, saying it would do that “in due course.”

In a brief order, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said, “The State of Wisconsin may, if it wishes … enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections.”

Wisconsin officials wasted no time in saying they would do just that.

“We are taking every step to fully implement the voter photo ID law for the November general election,” said Kevin Kennedy, the state’s top election official. “We are now focused on communicating with local election officials and voters, and will have more information about the details next week.”

Wisconsin’s conservative Republican governor, Scott Walker, heralded the court’s decision as a victory for his state.

“Voter ID is a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our voting process,” he said in a statement released by his office. “Today’s ruling makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Many Democrats expressed outrage.

“This ruling will disenfranchise Wisconsin voters and lower voter turnout in this fall’s election,” Democratic state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, of Milwaukee, said in a statement.

She also worried the bid to implement the law less than two months before the Nov. 4 election would cause confusion among election officials and voters.

A lower court judge, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman struck the law down as unconstitutional in April, saying it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters who may lack such identification. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked the 7th Circuit to overturn that ruling.

During an hourlong hearing on Sept. 12, the panel sounded skeptical about depictions of the law as discriminatory.

Under the 2011 measure, those arriving at polling stations must produce a government-issued ID with a photo to vote. Because of legal challenges, the requirement had not been enforced since the February 2012 primary.

Similar disputes have arisen in nearly a dozen other states, including Pennsylvania and Texas. Republicans who back such laws say they’re designed to combat voter fraud. Critics say they’re crafted to keep Democratic-leaning constituencies — such as minorities and poor people — from voting.

During arguments, Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General Clayton Kawski told the panel noted he had to show ID to enter the courthouse. If photo IDs are required for getting into some buildings or onto a plane, Kawski suggested, they should be required for something far more important — an election.

But an attorney for civil rights groups said there’s no proof of any notable election fraud in Wisconsin. John Ulin shot back at proponents who say the law would engender voter confidence saying, “The law achieves the opposite effect.”

In issuing an injunction against the law in April, Adelman found that 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin didn’t have the proper ID. Adelman noted the 2010 gubernatorial race was decided by about 125,000 votes.

During arguments, Judge Frank Easterbrook, a Ronald Reagan appointee, cited figures that 2.4 percent of whites in Wisconsin can’t obtain the needed ID to vote, while 4.5 percent of blacks can’t. He asked whether that 2 percent gap between whites and blacks makes the law discriminatory.

“The answer to your question is that it can and, in this case, it does,” Ulin responded.

The other two judges on the panel were Diane Sykes and John Tinder, both appointees of Republican President George W. Bush.

In a statement, Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt said, “The Seventh Circuit Court just turned back the clock on democracy by giving the green light to the voter suppressing Voter ID law. This law will disfranchise countless Wisconsinites and block citizens from freely participating in our democracy.  This is a desperate attempt by Gov. Walker to rig elections. In Wisconsin, we should be encouraging people to get involved and take part in elections, not putting up roadblocks and barriers for people to cast their ballot.”

He continued, “No matter what, the union movement is working hard every day to educate and inform voters about this crucial election.”

The ACLU brought the federal challenge to the law. 

Chris Ahmuty, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director, said on Sept. 12, “We are very disappointed in the irresponsible decision to lift the injunction against Voter ID, which will cause chaos and disruption for voters and elections workers for the November election.  The state has not demonstrated it is prepared to make this new ID scheme work. The new procedures were presented at the last second and it is unclear whether or how they will work in time to ensure that eligible voters are actually able to vote. It has not demonstrated how it will train 1,852 municipal clerks and tens of thousands of poll workers, as well as notifying voters of the new rules. We will continue to review and closely monitor this decision.”