Tag Archives: voter ID

UW-Madison to review impact of voter ID law in the state

A comprehensive UW-Madison study is underway to determine if Wisconsin’s new voter ID law played a role in the lowest statewide turnout for a presidential election in more than two decades.

The study will review the impact of the state’s voter ID law, considered by some as among the most restrictive in the nation.

The review will focus on Dane and Milwaukee counties, which have the highest percentage of minority and low-income voters in Wisconsin, according to a news release announcing the analysis.

About 66 percent of voting age people in Wisconsin cast ballots on Nov. 8. That turnout was down nearly four percentage points compared to 2012 and was three points behind the predictions from state election officials.

Most counties in Wisconsin saw a decline in turnout, but the drop was particularly dramatic in Milwaukee County, where nearly 50,000 fewer votes were cast this year compared to 2012.

Preliminary exit polling showed that turnout fell off most among young voters and African-Americans.

In Dane County, turnout was up slightly in real numbers, but down roughly 2 percent from four years ago among registered voters.

“Overall there were few problems on election day,” Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said in a press statement.  “However, there were reports of voters who showed up to the polls with the wrong form of photo ID, while others simply did not go to the polls because they feared they did not have proper ID.  This study will move us from anecdotes to facts.”

Milwaukee elections chief: Voter ID law hurt city’s turnout

Milwaukee’s elections chief said Wisconsin’s voter ID law caused enough poll problems in the city to  lower voter turnout.

Milwaukee saw a decline of about 41,000 voters in the Nov. 8 election compared with 2012, when President Barack Obama won broad support in the city and coasted to re-election, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“We saw some of the greatest declines were in the districts we projected would have the most trouble with voter ID requirements,” said Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city’s Election Commission.

According to Albrecht, the four districts with the most “transient, high poverty” residents had trouble meeting the photo identification requirement. Before those voters had the option of taking along a “corroborating witnesses” who could vouch for them at the polls.

“We had a lot of calls,” Albrecht said. “There were college students with roommate situations or spouses where everything was in one spouse’s name.”

But Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, claims the voter ID law didn’t hurt voter turnout.

“Voter turnout in this year’s presidential primary was the highest since 1972 with voter ID in place, so to now suggest turnout was down in the general election because of it is wrong,” Evenson said. “We have made voting easy while ensuring it is hard to cheat. Lower turnout in the general election was true nationwide. It was not unique to Wisconsin or voter ID.”

Albrecht did not have statistics detailing how many voters were turned away for not having the proper ID. He acknowledged that some of the drop-off in turnout resulted from less enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But the lower turnout was among Clinton supporters. Trump won razor-thin 27,000-vote victory in the state by picking up about 1,500 more votes than Romney in the state; Clinton lost by receiving nearly 239,000 fewer votes than Obama.

Meanwhile, third-party candidates received more than 150,000 votes.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin had 250 volunteers observing polls, mostly in places that have historically had a high number of election day registrations, such as college campuses and urban communities.

Executive director Andrea Kaminski said observers didn’t see a big problem at the polls but fears some voters never went to the polls due to the ID requirements.

“How many people are like that?” she said. “Those are the people we can’t count.”

 

Democrats urge DOJ to assist in overseeing Wisconsin elections

Dear Attorney General Lynch: As you are aware, Wisconsin, which we represent, is among 14 states that have adopted new voter restrictions in advance of the November 8 election.

The state’s 2011 voter identification law, one of the strictest in the country, has been repeatedly challenged in federal court due to its discriminatory effects on vulnerable populations’ voting rights.  Due to the law’s contentious nature and poor implementation, coupled with a political environment that is becoming increasingly intimidating, we are requesting the Department of Justice’s assistance in overseeing the state’s monitoring of the election, including by providing poll-monitoring services in Wisconsin.

In 2014, a U.S. district court noted that more than 300,000 Wisconsinites lacked the newly requisite form of identification, and that this population disproportionately included persons of color. Judge Lynn Adelman further observed that state officials “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” casting serious doubt on the official rationale for the policy.

A second federal court determined earlier this summer that even the “safety net” built into the law to help voters who have trouble obtaining ID was a “wretched failure” that “disenfranchised citizens” who are “overwhelmingly African American and Latino.”

Deeming the provision unconstitutional, Judge James Peterson mandated changes in practice and public education to ensure that that process better serves all Wisconsinites with documentation challenges in obtaining identification so they can vote. Concurring with Judge Adelman, Judge Peterson also expressed “misgivings about whether the law actually promotes confidence and integrity,” and observed that prior to 2011, “Wisconsin had an exemplary election system that produced high levels of voter participation without significant irregularities.”

Unfortunately, since that court order in late July, we have continued to see how Wisconsin’s voter ID law puts the franchise of many Wisconsinites, particularly people of color, in real jeopardy. Over the last month, press reports have revealed that on numerous occasions, Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicle employees provided erroneous and incomplete information to potential voters who are unable to obtain IDs due to a lack of required documentation (like a birth certificate), despite their eligibility for alternative credentials.

These revelations led Judge Peterson to remark on October 12, “I’m very disappointed to see that the state really did nothing in response to my order,” noting that voters are “at the mercy of the DMV, and its staff wasn’t trained well enough to guide people through it.” We are deeply troubled by the prospect of such misinformation contributing to voter disenfranchisement in this election. While further scrutiny by the federal court has prompted state officials to institute additional training and public education efforts at the DMV, there is entirely too much at stake in the limited time left before the election to let this continue without additional oversight.

In addition to misinformation, we are also concerned about potential voter intimidation at the polling places, particularly in light of recent, high-profile rhetoric that alleges “election rigging.” National figures have suggested that there is widespread voter fraud in our country and have encouraged private citizens to monitor the voting behaviors of certain communities for potential misconduct.

Given the flawed efforts thus far by state officials to properly implement this law, with proof of demonstrably false information having been disseminated to voters just days before the election, we fear that irreparable harm may result—particularly to voters of color, who disproportionately bear the brunt of these policies and any Election Day intimidation efforts.

We ask the Department to provide any resources or assistance it can in order to help our state navigate these unsettling circumstances.  For example, the Department has historically provided poll monitors on Election Day to help ensure that all eligible voters will be permitted to register and exercise their fundamental right to participate in our democracy. We therefore urge the Department of Justice to utilize any available election monitoring resources to ensure voters in Wisconsin are able to safely access the polls.

The right to elect our public representatives is unrivaled in its importance to a fully functioning democracy.  With few days remaining until the election, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to limit the amount of harm caused to our state’s voters.

Thank you for your consideration of this request and for the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to ensure the fairness of all elections in our country.

Early voting strongest in Wisconsin’s Democratic counties

About 1 in 3 absentee ballots cast in Wisconsin so far have come from the state’s largest and most heavily Democratic counties, giving Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign a reason to be optimistic about its chances here.

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, in a conference call with reporters on Thursday, singled out Dane and Milwaukee counties as places around the country where early voting turnout was strong.

Wisconsin voters do not register by party, so it’s impossible to know whether more Republicans or Democrats are voting early. But high turnout in Madison and Milwaukee, the state’s two largest and most Democratic cities, is essential for Clinton’s campaign and that of Senate candidate Russ Feingold.

Numbers compiled by the state Elections Commission show that as of Friday, 70,740 absentee ballots have been returned statewide. Of those, 22,511 were from either Milwaukee or Dane counties, or about 31 percent of the total cast statewide. By comparison, in the heavily Republican suburban Milwaukee counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington, only 6,420 early votes have been cast.

In-person absentee voting hasn’t started yet in many Republican parts of the state. But even when counting only mailed-in absentee ballots, about twice as many have been returned in Milwaukee and Dane counties compared with Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties.

Gov. Scott Walker on Friday downplayed the early returns, saying that given the unconventional campaign Donald Trump is running, “it’s hard to tell if conventional trends will be in line.” Walker said he was confident that grass roots organizing by Republicans will drive strong turnout for GOP candidates.

Walker referred to the unconventional nature of the Trump campaign the day The Washington Post broke the story about a videotape in which Trump made lewd and vulgar comments about groping women and trying to have sex with a married woman. At the time, he already was married to his current wife.

Milwaukee and Madison began offering in-person absentee voting on Sept. 26 after a federal judge ruled in July that a two-week limit on voting early was unconstitutional. Other smaller cities, towns and villages have also been allowing voters to cast ballots weeks ahead of the election. Still others will begin or expand early voting opportunities in the next three weeks.

Clinton’s and Feingold’s campaigns have been making a push in recent days for early voting in Wisconsin, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren coming to the state for get-out-the-vote drives. Feingold appeared with Sanders on Wednesday and he planned to attend a downtown Madison rally with Warren on Friday. Former President Bill Clinton was expected to campaign in Milwaukee on Saturday.

Trump and Feingold’s opponent, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, have also been encouraging their supporters to get to the polls early. Trump had scheduled a campaign stop Saturday in southeast Wisconsin, where he was to be joined by Johnson, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Walker and other Republican officeholders and top officials. However, Ryan said on Friday that he was sickened by the tape containing Trump’s comments about women and Trump would not be joining him at the event.

Early voting opportunities vary across the state. Green Bay, where people lined up to cast ballots in the April presidential primary and there is an open congressional seat, has only one location for early voting open at the city clerk’s office downtown. That has generated complaints from Democrats who want early voting to also be available on the University of Wisconsin campus about 5 miles away.

City clerk Kris Teske has said she doesn’t have the staff or budget to expand hours and locations.

Liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now has pushed for expanding early voting in Green Bay and other cities, including Kenosha and Racine. Scot Ross, director of the group, said it was “unfortunate” that early voting hours and locations are so haphazard across the state.

“Everybody should have as long of a period to vote as possible,” Ross said.

Madison and Milwaukee plan on expanded early voting locations. Milwaukee has had just one voting location since Sept. 26, but two more sites open Monday. Eleven polling places are open in and around Madison, with three to open later in October at the University of Wisconsin and Edgewood College.

Neil Albrecht, Milwaukee elections commissioner, said he wasn’t surprised that the first 10 days of early in-person voting resulted in only about 3,200 ballots cast in his city. In Madison, about 4,800 people had voted in-person absentee by Thursday morning.

As of Friday, more than half of the early votes cast so far — about 38,793 out of 70,740 — have been done in person. In 2012, more than 512,000 people cast in-person absentee ballots statewide in the presidential race out of about 659,000 absentee ballots in total.

‘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.”

Voter ID states have no voter impersonation problem

Continue reading Voter ID states have no voter impersonation problem

Courts, commissioners should put voters 1st as they sort out election law

Federal courts in Wisconsin and four other states recently came to the same conclusion – that restrictive voting laws do nothing to improve elections, while making it difficult or even impossible for many eligible citizens to vote.

In one of two Wisconsin rulings, federal district judge James Peterson wrote: “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

The Wisconsin attorney general is appealing both Wisconsin rulings on their merits. No one will be surprised if there are more changes before the November 8 election.

The ruling by Peterson, in One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen, makes it easier to obtain a free ID. It also resets the residency requirement for voting back to 10 days (from 28), eases restrictions on student voting and absentee voting, and allows clerks once again to hold early voting in the evening and on weekends.

A separate ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman allows citizens who have difficulty obtaining an ID with reasonable effort to meet the identification requirement by signing an affidavit – but this is the injunction that has been stayed.

The League of Women Voters hopes both rulings will be upheld.

In the meantime, we advise voters to be prepared and help others prepare to ensure that every eligible citizen will be able to vote and have their ballot counted this November.

Regardless of what happens in the courts, most people will need to show an acceptable photo ID. It could take some time to obtain an ID, so if you need one you should apply right away. You can find instructions on the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin website (lwvwi.org) or the Wisconsin Elections Commission’s “Bring It to the Ballot” website (bringitwisconsin.com).

If you need to register to vote, save time by doing so before the election. Contact your municipal clerk for information. You can also register at your polling place on Election Day.

If there are election law changes to be implemented, it will fall to the newly formed Wisconsin Elections Commission to draft procedures. Fortunately the WEC staff has experts experienced in helping voters and local officials navigate changing laws. However, any procedures the WEC staff develops will have to be approved by the Commission. We urge the six newly appointed commissioners to agree on a solution which puts the interests of voters ahead of those of the party leaders who appointed them.

Elections are not about the political parties or the interest groups or even the candidates. They are about the voters. On Election Day we are all equal, each citizen with one vote regardless of race, creed, gender or economic status. This is how we the people move our country forward and make it stronger for future generations.

We hope the courts and the elections commissioners will remember to put voters first as they work out the future of Wisconsin election law.

Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. The league welcomes women and men across the state as members. With 18 local Leagues in Wisconsin and 800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. 

Federal appeals court puts hold on voter ID ruling

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold the ruling by a federal judge in Milwaukee saying voters who have trouble obtaining the photo ID required by state law could still cast ballots by signing affidavits affirming their identity.

The panel of three appeals court judges based in Chicago said U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s decision was likely to be reversed on appeal. The judges added that the “disruption of the state’s electoral system in the interim will cause irreparable injury.”

The three judges who wrote the opinion — Frank Easterbrook, Diane Sykes and Michael Kanne — were all appointed by Republican presidents. President Bill Clinton nominated Adelman.

With the appeals court decision, Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls remains in effect for the Nov. 8 presidential election, as it was for the Aug. 9 primary elections.

People having trouble getting IDs will have to go to the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles for credentials to vote. They could not just show up at the polls and sign an affidavit, which would have been allowed under the ruling that was put on hold on Aug. 10.

Wisconsin Republican leaders who supported the photo ID law and fought against the lawsuits challenging it praised the appeals court ruling. Gov. Scott Walker called it a “step in the right direction.”

“Voters in Wisconsin support voter ID, and our administration will continue to work to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Walker said in a statement.

Walker and Republican lawmakers put the voter ID mandate in place in 2011, contending it would combat voter fraud, even though nothing suggests that widespread voter fraud exists in the state. Democrats decried the requirement as an attempt to disenfranchise liberal-leaning voters such as minorities who are more likely to lack IDs.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty asked for the injunction in June. ACLU attorney Sean Young said the voter ID law “guarantees that vulnerable Wisconsin citizens are going to be disenfranchised in November.”

Young said the ACLU was evaluating its options.

Remaining in effect, for the moment at least, is a sweeping 119-page ruling on Wisconsin voting laws.  U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson declared unconstitutional parts of Wisconsin’s voter ID law, as well as a host of other Republican-backed laws limiting days and locations for early voting, reduced opportunity for in-person absentee voting, and longer residency requirements.

Peterson said legislators tailored the restrictions to “suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”

MORE DIFFICULT TO VOTE

The GOP-driven changes to Wisconsin election laws are modeled after draft legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is backed by the Koch brothers and other influential and wealthy conservatives.

The proponents of the measures say they are needed to curtail voting fraud.

Critics of the measures say the intent is to make it more difficult for people who tend to vote Democratic — specifically people of color and students — to cast ballots. And Republicans have admitted as much in party memos.

Wisconsin has the authority to regulate elections and the responsibility to ensure election integrity, but Peterson dismissed the state’s assertion that the restrictive laws are intended to prevent fraud.

“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” the federal judge wrote. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

Parts of the measures enacted since Walker took office fail to meet the constitutional guarantee of fair and open elections, the judge said. He called the system for providing IDs a “wretched failure” and ordered the state to act to ensure that anyone eligible to vote could cast a ballot.

Walker, in a statement, blasted Peterson as an “activist federal judge.”

At One Wisconsin Now, executive director Scot Ross hailed Peterson’s decision as a “huge victory” and pledged to see the case through the courts.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund joined One Wisconsin Now in the challenge to the GOP laws.