POLITICS
09/30/2016 05:21 pm ET

Wisconsin Got Caught Stiffing Citizens On Voter ID, And Now A Judge Wants Answers

News reports documenting troubling incidents of voter disenfranchisement led a court to act.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a voter ID law in 2011 that has been stuck in the courts and causing confusion since then.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a voter ID law in 2011 that has been stuck in the courts and causing confusion since then.

A federal judge on Friday ordered the state of Wisconsin to explain why it may not be complying with express instructions to freely provide voter identification cards to any and all qualified voters who request them.

An appeals court last month allowed Wisconsin’s voter ID requirement to remain in effect for the November elections, but instructed the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles to automatically mail a free photo ID to anyone who goes to the DMV to start the ID process ― even to voters who have only some of the required documents.

A pair of troubling news reports in The Nation and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published this week told a very different tale: The DMV was giving conflicting and sometimes erroneous information about the voter ID requirement ― turning away voters who otherwise should have been issued a voter card or given assurances that they’d get one in the mail.

VoteRiders, a group that helps people obtain voter IDs, made recordings detailing how DMV employees at different offices were inconsistent in their instructions to voters on how they may obtain a photo ID.

Molly McGrath, who works for VoteRiders to help people get the required photo identification needed to vote, assists Mike Bat
Scott Bauer/Associated Press
Molly McGrath, who works for VoteRiders to help people get the required photo identification needed to vote, assists Mike Battles with questions about early voting in Madison, Wisconsin.

One black voter, for example, had all his documents except a birth certificate but was still turned away empty-handed by confused state workers ― which would be in direct violation of the August appeals order. The organization then shared the man’s ordeal with the two publications.

In light of these reports, U.S. District Judge James Peterson said on Friday that Wisconsin may be violating its obligations under the ongoing voter ID litigation. He gave state officials one week to look into these failings and report back to him.

“Defendants must investigate these allegations and provide a report to the court by October 7, 2016,” Peterson wrote. “The report should explain the scope of the investigation, its results, and any corrective action to be taken. Additional reports may be ordered as needed.”

In a separate development, the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID requirement for years, filed an appeal on Friday that seeks greater accommodations for voters ― including an affidavit option like the one approved in Texas and other states.

A bureaucracy designed to regulate driving is simply unequipped to be the gatekeeper of our democracy. American Civil Liberties Union

But the civil liberties group is also asking for an invalidation of the law altogether ― in part because of the state’s own troubles in implementing it.

“A bureaucracy designed to regulate driving is simply unequipped to be the gatekeeper of our democracy,” read the ACLU’s appeal. “Throughout the life of this five-year litigation, the DMV has consistently failed to implement effectively its ever-changing series of rules and policies, which continue to disenfranchise voters who cannot obtain ID despite reasonable effort.”

Considering how formal appeals work ― and the court’s earlier rejection of the affidavit alternative ― it is highly unlikely the ACLU will get a ruling in time for this election. 

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