A federal judge will consider next week a request to temporarily block Wisconsin's voter ID law following reports that the state may have violated a previous court order related to the administration of free identification cards.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 12 to consider a motion filed late Tuesday by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute.
Peterson on Friday ordered an investigation into media reports that Division of Motor Vehicles employees had given inaccurate information to people seeking state-issued free IDs for the November election, potentially violating an order from the judge's July ruling in a broad challenge to voting laws implemented over the last five years.
The findings of the DMV investigation are due to the judge by Friday.
Peterson said both sides may offer evidence at the Oct. 12 hearing to argue whether the state has complied with his initial order.
Joshua Kaul, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued the state "does not have — and is incapable of implementing — a functioning safety net for its strict voter ID law."
Plaintiffs are asking the judge to either temporarily suspend the voter ID law or to order several remedial measures to address issues with the ID petition process (IDPP), which is designed to help people who don't have the proper documentation obtain IDs.
Attorneys argued the state isn't ensuring that voters seeking IDs are given credentials promptly and isn't properly informing the public that temporary voting credentials are to be given to those who enter the IDPP.
The argument is based on recordings from several trips to DMV locations throughout the state, provided by Molly McGrath, national campaign coordinator with VoteRiders. The group, which opposes voter ID laws, also works to help people obtain IDs in states that require them for voting.
The motion came hours after DMV officials told lawmakers in a legislative hearing that the agency is seriously investigating the reports that prompted Peterson's order and that employees are being retrained on how to administer free IDs.
"We believe that the process is a sound process that will not disenfranchise any voter," Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said Tuesday.
But McGrath said she's not confident state officials are taking the reports seriously, or that the state has the ability to address any problems in time for the November election.
Gottlieb and DMV Administrator Kristina Boardman said Tuesday they are still investigating the reports, in conjunction with the state Department of Justice.
"We still have plenty of time to right any wrongs that may have occurred," Boardman told reporters on Tuesday.
Gottlieb said the agency hadn't yet been able to obtain full transcripts of the recordings VoteRiders released to reporters.
But McGrath said Wednesday the first contact she received from state officials was Tuesday morning at 11:09 a.m., just 21 minutes before the legislative hearing began, and several days after the recordings were detailed in media reports.
McGrath said the DMV's plans to retrain workers don't give her confidence that the process will be smoothed out by Election Day.
"Judge Peterson’s order came out the end of July. Scott Walker and the committee put this emergency rule into place in May. At this point, we’re months away from those orders and that ruling, but we’re only weeks away from the election," McGrath said. "So the bulk of the work should be behind them, not ahead of them."
The emergency rule, implemented in May, allows the DMV to issue receipts to would-be voters who are in the process of obtaining a photo ID but aren't able to provide the necessary documents in time for an election. Voters are able to cast ballots with those temporary receipts.
Peterson ordered the state in July to "inform the general public" that credentials valid for the November election would be given to anyone who entered the process to apply for a free state-issued ID, even if they lack documentation like a birth certificate.
In his July decision, Peterson overturned laws that limited in-person absentee voting to one location. Peterson also struck down laws that limited early voting hours and eliminated weekend voting, increased the residency requirement for voters from 10 days to 28 days, prohibited distributing absentee ballots by fax or email and required "dorm lists" used as proof of residence to include citizenship information, and a provision of the voter ID law banning the use of expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs at the polls.
Peterson in July found the IDPP system did not require "wholesale invalidation," but that it did not act as an effective safety net for qualified electors who struggle to obtain proper IDs.
"The IDPP is pretty much a disaster," Peterson wrote, later referring to it as a "wretched failure."
Under Peterson's July ruling, once a petitioner submits sufficient materials, the state Division of Motor Vehicles must "promptly issue a credential valid for voting, unless readily available information shows that the petitioner is not a qualified elector entitled to such a credential." The state must also "inform the general public" of that process.
"Petitioners and the public must be informed that these credentials have a term equivalent to that of a driver license or Wisconsin ID, and that they will be valid for voting until they expire or are revoked for good cause," Peterson wrote.
McGrath said she doesn't think the state has given enough money, training or priority to addressing issues with the IDPP. She said it's easy to focus on the politics and legal back-and-forth, rather than the people who are seeking IDs.
"I hope that there’s a solution in place that will make sure that these voters aren’t falling through the cracks. Most voters do have an ID, and many (who need one) don’t need to use the ID petition process. But the fact of the matter is there are voters who need an ID and don’t have a birth certificate, and they need to have a solution," she said.