DMV (copy)

Employees help customers at the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles Madison East office on Bartillon Drive on Thursday. DMV offices are issuing required photo identification cards for free to voters who need them.

Wisconsin's free ID program works to mitigate racial disparities that may result from the state's voter ID law, a witness for the state testified Wednesday in federal court.

Non-white voters are far more likely than white voters to request a free ID from the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which they're able to do under a requirement in the voter ID law signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. 

Lawyers challenging that law and several others say that's an example of the disparate burden placed on non-white voters by the series of voting changes implemented in Wisconsin between 2011 and 2015. Beyond the photo identification requirement, those changes include restrictions on early voting and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.

But University of Georgia political science professor M.V. Hood III testified on Wednesday that "the state has continued to move to mitigate the effects of the (voter ID) law," in part by issuing free IDs.

His testimony came during the second day of the state's defense.

Black voters are more than five times as likely as white voters to go through the process to receive a free ID in order to vote, according to DMV data. 

Asked by an attorney for the plaintiffs whether that demonstrates a "big problem" with the law, Hood said he views it as "mitigating a negative effect of the law, potentially."

"To the degree that a racial gap in ID possession may exist in Wisconsin, it is clear that the no-cost state ID program is acting to alleviate any such disparity," Hood wrote in an expert report filed with the court.

Lawyers challenging the laws are arguing that lawmakers intended to discriminate against non-white voters by passing them.

Attorneys for the state argue the plaintiffs are using anecdotal, "one-in-a-million" cases as an argument to strike down the laws. They have noted the state's increased turnout in elections that have occurred since the voter ID law was passed in 2011 and emphasized the free ID program.

Plaintiffs include One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and individual voters. The trial is expected to conclude Thursday.

The first week of the trial included testimony from elections experts, DMV employees, a former Republican legislative staffer and several witnesses who faced difficulties obtaining photo IDs.

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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.