The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Thursday said the state's new process for issuing photo ID's for voters is designed to "cause confusion and discourage people from voting."
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the voting rights group, issued the sharply worded statement on the heels of the announcement of a state Division of Motor Vehicles program to issue free identification records to people who have never had a Wisconsin driver's license or state ID card, and who can't prove their U.S. citizenship, names or dates of birth.
A statement from Gov. Scott Walker says the DMV is "offering to verify underlying documents, free of charge, to make sure everyone who wants an ID for the purpose of voting is able to get one."
What the statement from Walker and the announcement from the DMV don't mention is that the state's voter ID law is currently on hold in federal court, and likely will remain so for the Nov. 4 election.
"Statements by Gov. Walker and other proponents of the ID law about a new process for obtaining an ID – which is not needed under the injunction – are misleading for a number of reasons," Kaminski said. "First, they neglect to say that the law is still blocked. Secondly, the statements claim that the photo ID law only hurts a few individuals, when strong evidence was presented in the courts showing that some 300,000 currently registered voters in our state do not possess an acceptable photo ID card, were the law in effect."
State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has petitioned a federal appeals court to lift the injunction that's blocking the law before the November election. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Friday morning.
The law was upheld by the state Supreme Court last month in two rulings, one of them in a case filed by the League of Women Voters, and the other by the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But the conservative-led court said the state can't make voters produce government documents that require a fee. The new ID process is in response to that ruling.
Larry Dupuis, legal director for the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which, with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, filed the lawsuit in federal court, said even if the federal injunction on the Voter ID law were lifted, the state's new ID process is fraught with problems. For people who were born out-of-state, he said, the verification timeline before the November election is impossibly short.
"If you were born in-state they’ll check with Wisconsin Vital Records, and presumably Wisconsin Vital Records will cooperate," he said. "But it’s going to take a lot longer if somebody was born elsewhere for Wisconsin to get some kind of response. They apparently don’t have a relationship with any other states’ vital records offices at this point."
He said that creates a racial disparity in voting rights because African-American and Latino voters are much more likely to have been born out of the state than white voters.
It would also make ID verification burdensome or impossible for people whose birth certificates contained errors or were lost, which, for example, is the case for a number of residents who moved to Wisconsin after Hurricane Katrina.
"Their birth certificates are essentially gone," he said.
He said verification would also be difficult for many older voters.
"There are older, largely African-American, folks born in the South in the '50s and before, born at home, and there was no recording of their births by their states," he said.
Kaminski said an attempt by state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to lift the federal court injunction that's blocking the law is irresponsible, given that the election is less than eight weeks away, and implementation of the law would wreak havok on the state's election process.
"Anyone who would suggest implementing voter ID at this late date before an election must have it out for election officials and voters alike," she said in the statement. "Implementation would affect absentee voting, and municipal clerks are already preparing to send out absentee ballots. They would have to amend the instructions and establish new procedures for processing the ballots. They do not have time in these busy final weeks to retrain their poll workers and educate voters."
Dupuis said lifting the injunction would be "insane."
"It's completely impractical," he said.
Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl didn't return calls seeking the implications if the voter ID law were to be in place in November. But Barbara Van Clake, Omro city clerk and until recently the the president of the state Municipal Clerks Association, said clerks would have to retrain poll workers, and she would expect a steep uptick in provisional ballots because there's not enough time to educate the public on the requirement, so many voters would show up without IDs.
"Unless they're willing to spend a whole bunch of money on a statewide campaign, I don't think it's going to be enough time to get the word out," she said.