Civil rights advocates responded with protests and pledges to fight on after Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation that prohibits counties and towns from spending money on or issuing photo IDs.
The law also prohibits the use of city or village IDs to vote or obtain public benefits.
The legislation is the GOP’s response to the partnership forged between the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County — with strong support and leadership from progressive organizations — to issue IDs to residents who have difficulty obtaining other government IDs.
The coalition behind the partnership includes End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, GenderQueer Milwaukee, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, Project Return, St. Ben’s Community Meal, the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, Wisconsin Jobs Now and Voces de la Frontera.
“Gov. Walker and the Republicans in the state Legislature should be ashamed of themselves for taking away local governments’ ability to recognize and respond to the needs of some of their most vulnerable constituents and they will suffer consequences for their bigotry,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera.
Voces de la Frontera said activists would focus on the issue on May Day, which includes a march and a rally, beginning at 1027 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee, at 2 p.m.
The day also will bring a boycott of Menards.
“We made it clear that if this bill was passed we would call for a boycott of one of Gov. Walker’s largest corporate funders and, on May 1, in Milwaukee and throughout the nation, we will be calling on all people who believe in the dignity of all people to boycott Menards. SB533 has no value except to continue to affirm and institutionalize the politics of hate, division and scapegoating. We call on all people of conscience to not spend one dime in Menards for their home or business needs and to help us spread the word.”
The day he signed the legislation, Walker turned to Twitter to say that government IDs should be uniform throughout the state and that “state-issued photo ID cards are available for free upon request at DMV.”
However, state-issued ID cards are not as easy to obtain as Walker implied.
Letters recently released by Common Cause in Wisconsin indicate how the GOP enacted legislation mandating the use of certain government-issued photo IDs to vote but then failed to help under-served communities — particularly in rural areas — obtain the necessary IDs.
Last June, representatives of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Voices, Fair Elections Legal Network, 9to5, Wisconsin African-American Roundtable, One Wisconsin Institute, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Our Democracy 2020 wrote to Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb.
They shared concerns that 300,000 eligible voters lacked an ID needed to cast a ballot in Wisconsin and that 60 of only 92 Division of Motor Vehicle centers in the state were open just two days a week or less. In some locations, the DMV centers were open just six days a year and only two centers were open after 5 p.m. on a weekday.
“The elderly, poor, those without cars, or handicapped persons — particularly those in rural and remote areas of the state — will have to travel a great distance to get to their nearest DMV center,” the letter read. “It is not only a cost to them to travel this distance, but may pose some safety risk. Those with limited mobility may be forced to seek out someone who would have the time and be kind enough to take them to a DMV. This is not how trying to vote should work.”
The writers asked Gottlieb to establish a mobile DMV service, but their letter and their suggestions went unanswered.
In March, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, wrote to Walker, noting that mobile DMV centers have been successful in Alabama, Indiana, Virginia and Texas. He urged a program in Wisconsin so the state would be “in a far better position to fully implement the new voter ID requirement.”
Heck received a response, from Gottlieb, on March 22, before the spring election and presidential primary. Gottlieb said the DMV expanded services and hours — a minimum of 20 hours per week in every county and offering Saturday morning hours in some locations.
Gottlieb, however, did not mention the request for mobile DMV operations in under-served communities.
Heck said in a statement, “The Walker administration has not now, nor has it ever … had any plans to make these required forms of ID needed to vote easier to procure by setting up a mobile program.”
Heck said this, along with the lack of state funding for a public information campaign, led him to conclude that Walker, Gottlieb and “the Republican –controlled Wisconsin Legislature are engaged in a widespread, coordinated, systematic campaign” of voter suppression.
Twenty-nine other states have a voter ID rule now in force.
In North Carolina, civil rights attorneys are appealing a recent U.S. district court ruling upholding a 2013 major rewrite of state voting laws.
The ruling rejected arguments by the state NAACP, the U.S. Justice Department, churches and individuals that the election changes approved by the GOP-led General Assembly disproportionately harmed minority voters.
Critics had sued, alleging that the voting law was passed to discriminate against poor and minority voters in violation of the Constitution and U.S. Voting Rights Act.
But District Judge Thomas Schroeder said, “North Carolina has provided legitimate state interests for its voter ID requirement and electoral system.”
Lawyers for the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and others filed notices of plans to appeal the 485-page ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, called the ruling “almost 500 pages of rationalization for the intentional race-based voter suppression law that everybody knows was written to suppress African-American votes.”
The AP contributed to this report.