Waiting for the Mail: Wisconsin ID Procedures Raise Concern

waiting_for_mail

[“Waiting for the Mail” by Grant Wright Christian via archives.gov]

Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been a moving target lately, with courts blocking then reinstating it in the last month – but now there is concern that the state’s procedure for making IDs available to people who lack them won’t actually work for voters this fall because of the time it will take to have them delivered. The Journal-Sentinel has more:

Wisconsin election officials raised concerns Tuesday that some voters won’t be able to get IDs in time to vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election — potentially violating a court order.

In response, a Division of Motor Vehicles official said the state would use overnight mail to get people voting credentials in some cases to make sure they can more easily vote.

Courts have kept Wisconsin’s voter ID law in place but have ruled state officials must promptly provide free voting credentials to people who don’t have IDs, even if they lack birth certificates or other identity documents.

Three members of the state Elections Commission said they were worried people who wait to obtain IDs until close to the election won’t be able to get them in time to have their votes counted.

That’s because the DMV provides some voting credentials by mail, rather than in person. That raises the risk that those who visit a DMV center close to the election won’t get what they need to vote until too late, commissioners said.

It’s worth noting that despite the partisan rancor that has divided Wisconsin on this issue, concern about the slow delivery of IDs actually has bipartisan support:

“Everyone has a constitutional right to have their ballot counted,” said Mark Thomsen, chairman of the commission. “It’s up to us to do everything we can (to make sure people can vote).”

Commissioner Ann Jacobs said at Tuesday’s meeting she would like to see the DMV provide all voting credentials over the counter instead of through the mail when it gets close to the election.

Commissioner Steve King agreed with that approach in an interview.

“The mail won’t cut it” in some cases, he said.

Jacobs and Thomsen are Democrats; King is a Republican.

Slow delivery could affect voters’ ability to cast a ballot, but DMV representatives are suggesting that the problem will be solved by using express delivery:

When people go to the DMV for driver’s licenses or IDs, they typically get temporary documents they can use for voting in the office and their licenses or IDs through the mail. But people who do not have birth certificates or other identity documents get their temporary voting credentials through the mail instead of over the DMV counter.

Jacobs raised concerns about voters who don’t have identity documents who may not know they need IDs to vote until they get to the polls on Nov. 8. Those voters can cast provisional ballots, but those ballots will not be counted unless the voters show election clerks IDs by the Friday after the election.

Such a voter could go to the DMV on election day or soon afterward, but might not get his or her ID by the Friday after the election if the DMV sticks with the process it has been using, Jacobs said.

But DMV spokeswoman Patty Mayers said late Tuesday any voting credentials that need to be mailed during the week of an election would be sent by overnight mail.

No matter how it works, the current challenge is to alert voters without ID about how to get it, which is easier said than done:

Court decisions require the state to inform the public about how people can get voting credentials easily even if they don’t have birth certificates or other identity documents.

The state has a public information campaign underway that includes broadcast and internet ads. Jacobs said the campaign might not reach people who have the most difficulty getting IDs, noting many of them are elderly.

“The people who are least likely to have the documents are the people least likely to be on Facebook,” she said. “I’m not seeing them necessarily tweeting about their voting status.”

Commissioner Julie Glancey said the state should contact county human services departments so they can provide details about the voter ID laws to people who receive Meals on Wheels or participate in similar programs.

“They certainly could partner with some of that and know those vulnerable people who may or may not have ID,” said Glancey, a Democrat who formerly served as Sheboygan County clerk.

Michael Haas, the director of the commission, said he expects his staff to develop an outreach plan by next week that will emphasize that people can get voting credentials in one trip to the DMV.

This story is just the latest example of how the voter ID debate in this country has primarily shifted away from direct challenges to the policy of ID to battle over the details of its implementation. Concerns like these have derailed such laws recently, including in Wisconsin, and it will be interesting to see if plaintiffs in the ID case – who sought to allow voters without ID to sign an affidavit at the polls attesting to their eligibility – return to court to ask the judge for a modified order based on this latest development.

I would be deeply surprised if this story has finished with its twists and turns, especially in a state as fiercely divided as Wisconsin.

Stay tuned …

1 Comment on "Waiting for the Mail: Wisconsin ID Procedures Raise Concern"

  1. Another small but vulnerable group would be those with no postal address. The usual workaround of general delivery may result in a catch 22 when it comes to mailing identification because the USPS’s policy is that “a postmaster may refuse or restrict general delivery to a customer who is unable to present suitable identification.” (DMM 508, section 6.2)

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