Judge Lambastes Wisconsin Over Voter ID Failures

by | October 13, 2016

By Patrick Marley

Ripping the Division of Motor Vehicles for giving out inaccurate information, a federal judge said Wednesday he would order Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's administration to make changes to how it treats people who seek voting credentials but was unlikely to suspend the voter ID law.

"I think the training that was provided to the DMV counter service was manifestly inadequate," U.S. District Judge James Peterson said during a daylong hearing. "The DMV has a lot of competencies but one of them is not communicating to voters what they need to get an ID.

"I don't know why we're here a month before the election."

Peterson was reacting, in part, to recently released audio recordings of DMV workers supplying people with inaccurate voter ID information.

He said he was likely to order the state to print "palm cards" that would clearly explain how people could get IDs if they don't have birth certificates. He also wants the state to update material it provides to people in such situations after they apply for IDs so they know what to expect.

Peterson said he wanted the state to engage in a "public communication blitz" to inform people about the availability of IDs even if they don't have birth certificates, Social Security cards or other identity documents.

He left open the possibility he would make other changes to how the state administers the voter ID law and scheduled a hearing for 9 a.m. Thursday to work out the particulars.

"The state really needs to step up and make sure the IDs get into the hands of voters who can't have them (under the current system)," Peterson said.

But he said he was not sure he had the authority to suspend the voter ID law and was not inclined to go that far even if he did.

"Reluctant doesn't even begin to capture it in terms of my readiness to suspend the voter ID law," he said.

The vast majority of voters in Wisconsin have licenses or IDs they can use for voting and litigation over the law now centers on the sliver of people _ most of them minorities _ who have the most difficulty getting them. The lawsuit was brought by two liberal groups, One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund.

In July, as part of that lawsuit, Peterson struck down limits on early voting and ordered the state to reform its system for making sure people have voting credentials under the voter ID law.

In recent weeks, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others have reported on DMV workers giving people inaccurate and incomplete information about their ability to get voting credentials. That prompted those suing the state to renew their push to overturn the voter ID law.

The Nation last month reported on an incident in which three DMV workers in Madison gave a homeless man, Zack Moore, incorrect information about his ability to get voting credentials when he couldn't locate his birth certificate.

An audio recording of Moore's encounter at the DMV was made by VoteRiders, a group critical of voter ID laws that helps people get IDs.

The Journal Sentinel reported on seven other recorded instances where DMV workers gave a VoteRiders volunteer incorrect information when she asked about getting voting credentials for someone who lacked a birth certificate.

In response to the recordings, the DMV last week retrained its workers and updated handouts it gives to people seeking IDs if they don't have birth certificates.

Peterson said those were positive steps but should have been done long ago.

"I'm very disappointed to see that the state really did nothing in response to my order on the 29th" of July, he said.

Kristina Boardman, the administrator of the DMV, acknowledged on the stand that for two months after Peterson's order, the DMV gave people documents with inaccurate voter ID information.

Under the current system, people who do not have birth certificates or other identity documents who apply for IDs have voting credentials sent to them within six days. Those credentials are good for 60 days, and new credentials are mailed to them before they expire if the state has not issued them an ID by then.

Peterson expressed concerns about the process because many of the people who use that process are transient and have a difficult time getting mail. He signaled he was considering having the state give people credentials the day they apply for them or providing them with credentials that are good for a longer period.

(c)2016 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel