Few things are more precious in a democracy than a person’s right to vote. Currently, 16 states require voters to show photo identification before voting. Proponents argue voter ID laws help guard against election fraud, while opponents point out little evidence of widespread fraud exists and these laws unconstitutionally restrict the right to vote. A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that being struck by lightning occurs more often than voter impersonation.
In 2011, the Wisconsin legislature passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, according to criteria by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters who do not have the correct identification are able to cast a provisional ballot, but they must then produce identification to election inspectors within three days for their vote to count. In other words, they must make a trip to obtain the correct identification and then make a trip to their clerk’s office to provide it. In Madison, for example, only 41 of 123 provisional ballots were counted.
After being tied up in litigation for the better part of three years, the identification requirements for voting in Wisconsin just recently went into effect. The Wisconsin Voter ID Law creates hoops that many eligible voters can’t jump through or don’t know about.
The confusion over the Wisconsin Voter ID Law, both because of the complex nature of the law itself and because of prolonged litigation, is evident. A recent Marquette poll indicated that 16 percent of Wisconsinites, or over 900,000 people, either don’t think they’re required to show photo identification to vote or don’t know whether or not the law is in effect. Additionally, we know that over 300,000 Wisconsinites don’t have the required photo identification needed to vote.
We learned at the April election that there’s also a lot of confusion between the documents needed to register to vote, the documents needed to get a voter identification card, and the documents actually needed to vote. This information can be found at gab.wi.gov/elections-voting/photo-id and bringit.wisconsin.gov .
Students often have the most challenging time figuring out what they need to register and vote. Student IDs issued by most Wisconsin colleges and universities are not accepted for voting. In fact, only 3 out of 14 four-year public universities in Wisconsin have student IDs that comply with the Wisconsin Voter ID Law, although University of Wisconsin schools provide students with additional free voting identification cards. The law is especially hard on out-of-state students and those without a driver’s license. Students also have to provide proof of current college enrollment.
The Wisconsin Voter ID Law also directed the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to conduct a public informational campaign in advance of the first election to which the voter identification requirements would apply. Though the GAB received funds to develop this campaign and, with a few minor changes, it could be easily launched, they need money to execute it and buy radio and television time. $250,000 was recently approved by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to the GAB for this campaign prior to the fall elections. It is imperative that every person eligible to vote is able to do so in the August primaries and the November general elections. The state has an obligation to make sure each voter knows what they will be required to present to be able to vote.
An estimated one million more people will turn out to cast their vote in November than those who came out in April. Voter confusion hurts democracy, and it is more important than ever that we get out the word about the documents needed to register and cast a vote.
Representative Chris Taylor is a Democrat representing the 76th Assembly District, which includes downtown Madison and part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.