Column: Last-Minute Switches Should Motivate, Not Deter, Voters
By Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
Most people would agree that for elections to be fair, they have to be orderly and every citizen must have the opportunity to participate. Changing the rules seven weeks before an election creates disorder, and some eligible voters inevitably will fall through the cracks.
When politicians mess with our election system to influence who gets to vote, they betray the public trust. It is the voters who should be choosing our leaders, not the other way around.
The ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing enforcement of the voter photo ID law has made administration of the November 4 election much more difficult for our election officials. Attorneys for the state claimed Wisconsin was ready to implement the law because of a new procedure for obtaining a free voting ID for people who do not have a birth certificate, which was announced by Governor Walker just days before the ruling. They did not explain to the Chicago-based appeals court that Wisconsin elections are administered at the local level by 1,852 municipal clerks and that allowing the law to go into effect at this stage would strain local officials and budgets, while disenfranchising eligible voters.
Whereas provisional ballots have been rare in Wisconsin, we can expect thousands to be issued in November to voters who do not show an acceptable photo ID. For their ballot to be counted, these voters will to bring their ID to their municipal clerk by 4 pm on the Friday after the election. The simple truth is that a provisional ballot is one that most likely will not be counted.
Although we are grateful that ACLU-Wisconsin and other groups have appealed the court’s rash ruling, the law is still in effect and we must prepare voters for the ID requirements. The League of Women Voters is working at the local, state and national levels to assist Wisconsin voters in understanding the new requirements and obtaining an acceptable photo ID if they don’t have one.
Fortunately most Wisconsin voters already do have an acceptable ID for voting. If you have a valid Wisconsin Driver License or State ID you are probably good to go, even if your ID does not have your current address. Other acceptable IDs include a valid U.S. passport and certain military and tribal IDs. Many colleges are now issuing special student IDs that will be compliant. A full listing of acceptable photo IDs is available on the Government Accountability Board (GAB) website at: http://www.gab.wi.gov/voters/resource.
If this is the first time you will vote in Wisconsin or if you have moved since the last time you voted, you will have register. You can do so through your municipal clerk or at the polls on Election Day and you must provide proof of residence. A list of acceptable documents is on the GAB website.
Active military, overseas and indefinitely confined voters casting absentee ballots are exempt from the ID requirement.
If you do not have an acceptable photo ID for voting, you can get one at no cost at a DMV Service Center. You will need a certified U.S. birth certificate, valid passport or certificate of naturalization, as well as proof of residence. If you do not have a birth certificate, bring whatever you have – a Social Security card, health records, a listing in a family Bible – and DMV officials will work with other state agencies to verify your identity. If your name does not match that on your birth certificate, bring documentation to explain the difference, such as a marriage certificate or certified copy of judgment of divorce. For many people providing such documentation is not a simple matter, as some politicians claim, and for some it will be impossible. It is best to get started right away. The League has found the people at the DMV to be very helpful. Information is on the DMV website at: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/drivers/drivers/apply/idcard.htm
Election administration is no small task, but we in Wisconsin are accustomed to an orderly and predictable process. Our nonpartisan local and state officials exercise great care and professionalism as they prepare for an election. We respond by voting at one of the highest rates in the nation, and we won’t let last-minute partisan tricks hold us back.