Erroneous Denials and Bureaucratic Bumbling Taking the Franchise Away From Legal Voters
MADISON, Wis. — A new filing in a lawsuit brought by One Wisconsin Institute and other voter rights advocates exposes serious flaws at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the process for providing Wisconsinites with the ID that voters must now produce to cast their ballot at the polls. As part of the voter ID law adopted by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican controlled legislature, individuals are ostensibly able to request a free identification card from the DMV under certain circumstances. But bureaucratic delays and improper denials are preventing otherwise legal voters from obtaining the ID now required to vote.
“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,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director. “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.”
The suit, filed in federal court in Madison, outlines more than a dozen policies that have made voting in Wisconsin more challenging for eligible citizens and seeks to strike down various restrictive voting measures put in place by Governor Scott Walker and the Republican State Legislature since 2011.
The latest filing by the plaintiffs notes that in the state voter ID case, the state supreme court held that the DMV had to exercise its discretion under the “extraordinary proof” petition process to permit voters to obtain exemptions for having to pay for birth certificates or other government records needed to obtain voter ID. An analysis of this process and numerous examples shows how this process is resulting in otherwise legal voters being denied the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
An internal DMV analysis found an error rate of 27 percent, meaning more than one in four petitions to obtain a voter ID under the extraordinary proof process were mishandled between March and August of 2015. The agency admits numerous instances of petitions being suspended because a person gave up in anger or frustration.
And the problem is expected to get worse. The DMV is expecting increased demand for voter IDs this year due to the presidential election and already reports a backlog of dozens of “open” petitions, has cut back on staff, and has no extra staff or budget allocated to deal with the expected increased demand.
The filing includes several examples of how the DMV process is broken, resulting in eligible individuals being denied IDs, and therefore their right to vote, including:
- Refusing to provide an ID to a woman who had lost the use of her hands and couldn’t sign an application. The woman brought her daughter with her to sign the application and even provided her daughter with power of attorney giving her permission to sign, but the DMV did not allow it;
- Denying the petitions of many eligible voters because of minor discrepancies in the spelling of their names or uncertainties about their exact dates of birth—even though DMV acknowledges it has no doubts these disenfranchised voters are U.S. citizens;
- “Turning away” a senior citizen who had been ‘born in a concentration camp in Germany,’ and his German birth certificate had been lost in a fire. That citizen was ultimately granted an ID, but only after extraordinary effort on his behalf to comply with absurd demands by the DMV.
Ross concluded, “When the DMV erroneously denies someone an ID or their incompetence and bureaucratic delays result in a person giving up in anger or frustration, they are denying a legal voter their right to vote. And that is unacceptable.”
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One Wisconsin Institute is a non-partisan, progressive research and education organization dedicated to a Wisconsin with equal economic opportunity for all.