“Can they charge for an ID to vote?” a woman asked. “No,” I said. “The ID must be free.”
As I visit with folks at community festivals and county fairs, they are asking a lot of questions about Wisconsin’s new voter ID law: Do I need some kind of special ID to vote? Where do I get the ID? When do I have to use the ID?
Wisconsin’s new Voter ID law is the strictest in the nation. Beginning in January 2012, voters will need a photo identification card with current address, name and a photo that reasonably resembles the voter.
Under the law only 7 types of ID would be acceptable to allow a citizen to vote. Two are state-issue driver’s license or ID card. The others include a passport, military or tribal ID, naturalization papers or a college ID updated every two years. Currently no Wisconsin college offers students a new ID every two years.
The most common acceptable form of identification is a state-issued ID or a driver’s license. Both are available at state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or driver’s license centers.
People were concerned about the lack of a local driver’s license center in some counties and the limited hours available in other counties. For example, Buffalo County has no center and the center in Pepin is only open 39 hours a year.
This lack of access creates a potential constitutional challenge for the new photo identification law.
People are also confused about whether they need to pay for the ID card. Officials at DMV centers were not informing applicants that a voter ID should by law be free. To clear up the confusion, I joined other legislators to introduce a bill requiring officials to inform citizens applying for a card that voter IDs are free.
Courts stuck down laws that charge voters for an ID to vote or charge them for any supplemental document needed to get that ID (like a birth certificate).
Courts also considered time, transportation and advance planning necessary to get the ID. This means an unconstitutional burden is placed on people if they have to pay for an ID or a birth certificate to get the ID; if it takes a long time to get to a DMV center, or if they must do advance planning to arrange to get an ID.
The state cannot impinge on your right to vote.
I argued during debate on the voter bill that lack of DMV centers in rural areas creates an unfair burden on rural folks.
In an effort to avoid a constitutional challenge, the state budget included a requirement that every county have a DMV office open at least 20 hours a week. Currently only 30 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties meet that requirement. To comply with the new law, state officials are shuffling around DMV centers.
The shuffling of centers will cause some to close and others to expand. Although the plan is not final, officials announced they will close as many as 16 offices including Stanley & Abbotsford. Nine new centers will open including Alma and a center in southern Eau Claire County.
All of this comes at a cost to taxpayers: roughly $15 million and 60 new state jobs.
The upcoming recall elections are the first time Wisconsin voters will be asked for an ID but they are NOT required to have one. The ID requirement goes into effect for elections after January 2012. But new rules are in effect that change residency and absentee voting.
There are no recall elections in the 31st State Senate District this month. Voters in six Senate Districts will go to the polls on August 9th. Voters living in the northeast and the Kenosha area will go to the polls on August 16th.
As you talk with friends and family to remind them to vote, be sure and tell them they DO NOT need a new ID to vote this summer.
Everyone WILL need an accurate, current ID for 2012. So you and others may end up taking a trip to the local DMV center. If you do - remember - the ID is FREE!