Wisconsin to would-be voters: drop dead

Ari Berman went to Wisconsin to see how badly that state is doing at fulfilling its duty to enable eligible voters to vote.

Zack Moore, a 34-year-old African-American man, moved from Chicago to Madison last year. He worked at a car wash and then a landscaping job before breaking his leg and becoming unemployed. After staying with his brother, he’s now homeless and sleeping on the streets of Madison.

On September 22, he went to the DMV to get a photo ID for voting, as required by Wisconsin’s strict voter-ID law. He brought his Illinois photo ID, Social Security card, and a pay stub for proof of residence. But he didn’t have a copy of his birth certificate, which had been misplaced by his sister in Illinois, so the DMV wouldn’t give him an ID for voting. “I’m trying to get a Wisconsin ID so I can vote,” Moore told the DMV. “I don’t have my birth certificate, but I got everything else.”

He shouldn’t need his god damn birth certificate. The DMV told him to drive to Illinois to get it – as if everyone just automatically can drive long distances to get a piece of paper, as if poor people have no difficulties owning a car or paying for gas. It’s like the evacuation order before Katrina, that simply told everyone to get out of New Orleans, as if people who don’t own cars didn’t exist.

Or, to put it another way, as if they want to exclude poor people especially non-white poor people…which of course they do.

Nine percent of registered voters in Wisconsin don’t have a valid voter-ID and many are still struggling to get the documents they need to vote in November. It appears that Wisconsin is violating multiple court orders by not promptly giving eligible citizens free IDs or certificates for voting. This is particularly concerning since early voting began this week in cities like Madison and Milwaukee and thousands of Wisconsinites are casting ballots.

In an August ruling, federal district court Judge James Peterson said the [ID Petition Process] was “unconstitutional” and “pretty much a disaster. It disenfranchised about 100 qualified electors—the vast majority of whom were African American or Latino—who should have been given IDs to vote in the April 2016 primary. But the problem is deeper than that: even voters who succeed in the IDPP manage to get an ID only after surmounting severe burdens.”

He ordered, “Wisconsin may adopt a strict voter ID system only if that system has a well-functioning safety net.” He said the state must “promptly issue a credential valid as a voting ID to any person who enters the IDPP or who has a petition pending.”

But when people go to the DMV they are still told no.

Legal experts say they’re extremely troubled by the state’s continued failure to fairly enforce the voter-ID law. “Wisconsin has promised the court that voters would be able to get an ID with whatever documents they have,” says Sean Young of the ACLU. “They’ve completely failed to live up to that promise.”

The state keeps frantically changing its procedures to mollify the courts, leading to even more confusion among voters. Last week the Walker Administration proposed issuing “voting purposes only” IDs that could not be used for anything else, like opening a bank account. “The Division of Motor Vehicles also wants the free IDs – born of voter fraud fears – to be cheapened in quality, with some fraud protections removed,” theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“The more they change the procedures, the clearer it becomes that this has nothing to do with voter impersonation,” Young says. “The whole process has no meaning anymore. It’s just a pointless obstacle to the right to vote.”

And the result is that people – poor people of color mostly – are being disenfranchised.

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