Voter rights advocates, in a federal complaint, allege serious flaws at the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles in the process for providing the photo IDs needed to vote in the state.
As part of the voter ID law signed by Gov. Scott Walker, people are supposed to be able to request a free photo card from the DMV under certain circumstances. However, according to One Wisconsin Institute, bureaucratic delays and improper denials are preventing people from obtaining the IDs they need 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,” Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Institute executive director, said in a news release. “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 complaint, filed in federal court in Madison, outlines more than a dozen policies making voting in Wisconsin more challenging for eligible citizens. The lawsuit seeks to strike down various restrictive voting measures put in place by Walker and the Republican State Legislature since 2011.
The complaint notes the state supreme court has 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.
However, 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 admitted numerous instances of petitions being suspended because a person gave up in anger or frustration, according to OWI.
Now, with the spring primary to be held in a month and the general election set for November, the DMV is expecting increased demand for voter IDs. Yet the agency is reporting 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, according to OWI.
The complaint includes examples of how the DMV process is broken:
• 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, in the news release, said, “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.”