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Wisconsin Voter ID Law Ensnares Teacher In Rural Part Of State

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WASHINGTON -- Rita Platt is a teacher in Wisconsin who moved to the small town of Osceola last year. She has gone through FBI background checks in the four states where she has been certified to teach, has her Social Security card, held a Wisconsin driver's license from 1984-1998 and currently has a driver's license from Iowa.

Despite all this, she is currently ineligible to vote in the 2012 elections in Wisconsin.

Platt is one of the growing number of people ensnared by the state's new voter ID law, which requires residents to show valid photo ID when they go to the polls to vote. While Platt is sure she'll be able to get her new license in time for the next elections, she's frustrated that in the end, she will be forced to pay more than $100, endure bureaucratic headaches and take time off from work in order to be able to carry out one of her constitutional rights.

Osceola is a small town in northwestern Wisconsin with a population of under 3,000 people. The two closest Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices are in the towns of Amery and New Richmond, which are approximately 30 minutes away, and rarely open. The Amery DMV is open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on only the first Tuesday of every month. The New Richmond DMV is open during the same hours on the second Tuesday of every month.

The closest DMV open full-time during business hours is the one in Hudson, a city about an hour south of Osceola. Platt and her boyfriend, who also needed to get a new license, went there on their day off from work, only to find out that the DMV's computer system was down that day.

"So we drove an hour there. No matter what documentation we had had, we couldn't have gotten our driver's licenses, which is a huge problem, because that's what -- $15 in gas both ways? We're upper-middle class, so we're doing fine. We're both teachers ... But for some folks, that's an impossibility. So you have to have a car, you have to have enough gas to drive an hour there," she told The Huffington Post, outlining some of the difficulties involved in getting ID in order to vote.

Moreover, neither Platt nor her boyfriend, John Wolfe, had a certified birth certificate or a current passport, one of which is required to obtain a new license.

"My passport is long-expired," said Platt. "I have two small children. It costs money to re-up your passport, and I'm not going to be traveling anywhere until my kids are older ... And I've moved every two years my whole adult life. I'm 42. I have no idea where my certified birth certificate is. I'm not sure I ever even had one, since I've never needed one before."

"It's not that I can't get my voter ID. I will get mine," added Platt, who said she is very active politically and has never missed an election. "It's just that there's a huge poll tax that's going to be upwards of $100 by the time I'm done."

Platt has joined a lawsuit challenging the voter ID law, known as Act 23. It is the second lawsuit challenging the law, and the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP is the lead plaintiff.

Milwaukee attorney Richard Saks, who is representing the plaintiffs, said while Platt's case shows the burden of the law, there may be thousands of other people in the state who will be unable to vote because they don't plan weeks and weeks in advance to vote.

"We know about people like Rita because they're the most motivated people," he said. "They're the ones who have already made the effort to register to vote for the election. There are scores of people like Rita who may not do anything about this until just a week before the election, by which time, it'll probably be too late to vote. They may hear about Rita's situation, or they may read about the requirements under the law, and they may decide it's too burdensome, takes too much time and is too expensive, and they might not even bother to get an ID."

Kristina Boardman, director of the Bureau of Field Services for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's DMV, told The Huffington Post she has spoken with Platt and she was able to look her up on the system. Since Platt had a Wisconsin driver's license in the past, she will be able to renew without showing proof of legal presence, although she will still have to make the extra trip to the DMV in order to get a new license.

"Generally, there is some confusion, and we're trying to make sure that well in advance of when this is required for the first election in February, people understand what they need to get a product," Boardman said about the voter ID law.

Beginning the week of Jan. 23, every county in the state will have at least 20 hours of DMV service. The DMV in Amery, near Platt's house, will be open two days a week for 10 hours each day.

Recently, the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune reported on an 84-year-old Wisconsin woman who has voted in every election since 1948, but may not be able to do so in 2012. Ruthelle Frank never received an official birth certificate, and in order to get one, she'll have to pay $20. However, as the paper noted, "The attending physician at Frank's birth misspelled her maiden name, which was Wedepohl. To get a birth certificate that has correct information, she will have to petition a court to amend the document -- a weeks-long process that could cost $200 or more."

More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack government-issued ID needed to vote in some states. Constituencies that traditionally vote Democratic are hit the hardest, with 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans without such documentation. Advocates of voter ID laws argue the measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud, even though the Department of Justice has found no credible evidence to suggest there is widespread cause for concern. Civil rights groups argue that these laws amount to a "poll tax" that prevents voters from going to the polls.

The GOP-controlled legislature pushed through Wisconsin's voter ID law before the summer's recall elections, in an attempt to get the highly controversial measure approved while they still had a solid majority in the state Senate. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the bill into law in May.

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