A federal judge last week reinstated allegations that the state's voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act and place significant burdens on the right to vote.
The counts, originally contained in a 2015 lawsuit challenging the state's restrictive voting laws, later were dismissed after a 7th District Court of Appeals ruled that a Wisconsin Department of Transportation process for issuing voter ID cards in hardship situations would make the law less burdensome and upheld it.
U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson, however, reinstated the counts after the plaintiffs -- the One Wisconsin Institute Inc., Citizen Action Education Fund, and several individuals -- argued that WisDOT fumbled the process and administered it in an "arbitrary, capricious, abusive, 'needlessly hard,' and racially discriminatory manner that only further exacerbates the disproportionate impacts of the voter ID law on African Americans, Latinos, senior citizens, the poor, and other populations targeted by the voter ID law and the other voting restrictions at issue in this litigation."
The amended lawsuit also alleges that the state's free ID process is "imposed in a staggeringly disproportionate manner on African American and Latino voters, and presumably Democratic voters as well."
An earlier post on some of the hurdles faced by potential voters is here.
"We are grateful that the court has agreed to hear arguments on Wisconsin's restrictive voter ID law," One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross said Monday. "We are starting to see the real consequences this law has for people who simply want to exercise the most basic of American rights - to legally cast their ballot in our elections, without cost and without obstruction. Wisconsinites shouldn't have to do bureaucratic battle with the DMV in order to exercise their right to vote."
In an amended complaint filed Friday, One Wisconsin and its allies detailed the obstacles and frustrations of additional potential voters.
Johnny M. Randle, 74, is an African-American Milwaukee resident born in Tchula, Mississippi. He moved to Wisconsin in 2011 to be cared for by his daughter, according to the suit. The two have been trying since then to get a Wisconsin ID for him. He finally asked WisDOT's Division of Motor Vehicles to grant him a free ID because he could not get his Mississippi certificate without having to incur fees and expenses, according to the complaint.
"DMV required him to go through a five-month-long 'adjudication process' that culminated in an October 7, 2015 rejection letter," the suit said.
Randle's daughter had eventually tracked down her father's birth certificate, but "DMV ruled he was nevertheless ineligible because the name on his birth certificate is 'Johnnie Marton Randall,' whereas the name he has used for his entire adult life is 'Johnny Martin Randle,'” the complaint said.
DMV said Randle would need to go through the Social Security Administration to get the name changed on his Social Security card changed so it matched the birth certificate or to go to court to get his name legally changed and then provide court documents to DMV as proof of the name change.
"DMV has no basis to question Mr. Randle’s U.S. citizenship or that he is who he says he is," the complaint said. "Absent relief from this Court, Mr. Randle may never be able to vote again."
Another African-American, David Walker, 64, of Milwaukee, is registered to vote and has often done so, according to the suit. Walker has been trying for 20 years to get his birth certificate from Missouri, but that state has repeatedly said there is no record of his birth there. Walker is not sure about the circumstances of his birth and both of his parents are dead, the complaint said.
He, too, asked DMV for a voter ID, according to the lawsuit. Nine month later, after Missouri confirmed four times that it did not have a record of Walker's birth, DMV rejected Walker's request "pursuant to this lack of required documentation."
"Absent relief from this Court, Mr. Randle may never be able to vote again."
DMV said Walker was free to re-apply and submit other types of documentation that he did not have and could not obtain, the complaint said.
"DMV undertook no efforts to help Mr. Walker track down these ancient records, although it sometimes provides such assistance to other petitioners," the complaint said. "DMV has no basis to question Mr. Walker’s U.S. citizenship or that he is who he says he is."
David Aponte, of Milwaukee, is a 58-year-old Latino who lives in Milwaukee. He also is a registered voter. Aponte believes he was born in eastern Pennsylvania, but his family moved to Puerto Rico, where he was baptized and got his Social Security Card, according to the suit.
Aponte asked DMV for a free ID because Pennsylvania had no record of his birth. Nine months later, after Pennsylvania confirmed three times that it could not locate Aponte's birth records, DMV told Aponte to look for other documents that would confirm his legal identity.
"Mr. Aponte’s mother (a Florida resident) called the DMV twice to confirm her son’s birth in Pennsylvania, and reported that the hospital where David had been born in 1958 had burned down and all records lost," the suit said.
Although Aponte's main language is Spanish and he sometimes needs an interpreter's help, DMV did not offer him one to assist him to understand the agency's questions, the suit said.
DMV rejected Aponte's request, the suit said.
"The ID petition process is plagued with long delays, red tape, repeated errors, inconvenient service hours, and the need for enormous voter fortitude and persistence," the suit said.
Family members and caregivers of elderly applicants must spend time dealing with "multiple bureaucracies in multiple jurisdictions on the senior petitioners’ behalf," the suit said. "DMV’s files are replete with
evidence of customer complaints about receiving inaccurate and misleading information
about the process, complaints from agency personnel about the lack of any standards or
guidance, and audits showing sub-par agency performance" administering the voter ID process.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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