A 70-year-old woman trying to get a voter ID card from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation was told that the State Department of Health Services said she was dead, even though the federal government said she was alive. WisDOT sent her away to sort out her status.
The woman never did get her ID.
A health care worker assisting another potential voter tried unsuccessfully eight different times to submit the voter's baptism certificate to WisDOT's Division of Motor Vehicles as proof of identity. Senior DMV officials finally relented when the baptism certificate was submitted along with proof that the voter's parents were buried in Wisconsin.
And in several instance, DMV directed voters who were adopted and didn't know about much about their births to find out.
Those stories of bureaucracy gone bad are included in documents filed in federal court last month in support a legal challenge to the state's voter ID law. The filing by the One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, Inc. and several individuals argues that new evidence about WisDOT's poor administration of the free ID program merits reinstatement of challenges to the law that were previously dismissed.
“There has been a comprehensive, systematic effort in Wisconsin to make voting harder and more complicated for targeted populations by Republican politicians attempting to gain an unfair partisan advantage,” Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Institute executive director, said when the brief was filed. “The documented failures of the DMV to provide legal voters with the ID they now need to exercise their right to vote is yet another sad episode in the assault on democracy underway in Wisconsin.”
Much of the new evidence comes from DMV files.
Consider this, for example. WisDOT provided to the plaintiffs files of 30 voters (of 1,062!) seeking a free ID under a petition process as of Feb. 16, according to the brief. Twenty-five, or 84%, of those voters were black or Latino. Only one of the voters of color succeeded in negotiating WisDOT's labyrinth and emerging with an ID; all of the white voters won approval to vote.
Other highlights (lowlights) from the brief:
An expert witness for the plaintiffs, Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University and an authority on voting discrimination, reviewed the 30 files DMV provided. Nineteen of those applicants were denied voter IDs.
"Although 19 outright denials may seem like a small number, as far as I know it represents the first time since the era of the literacy test that state officials have told eligible voters that they cannot exercise their fundamental right to vote – not in the next election, probably not ever," he wrote.
The entire brief is below.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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