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Federal judge to order state to publicize process for people facing voter ID hardships
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Federal judge to order state to publicize process for people facing voter ID hardships

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A federal judge Thursday ordered the state to better publicize the process for people who face hardships complying with Wisconsin’s voter ID law to get a temporary credential allowing them to vote in November.

Judge James Peterson reiterated that he won’t give plaintiffs in a legal challenge to the law what they sought: a full suspension of the law in advance of the Nov. 8 election.

Peterson instead said in a court hearing that he would instruct the state to “patch” up the law in time for the November election, the first presidential election in which it will be in effect.

It remained unclear if the plaintiffs in the case, which include the liberal groups One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, will appeal the ruling. An attorney for the plaintiffs, Josh Kaul, said after the hearing that he was “very pleased that (Peterson) ordered a lot of reforms that we think are going to make it easier for people to access the right to vote.”

“Now it’s up to the state to take that order very seriously and to do what it can to make sure that people aren’t disenfranchised in this election,” Kaul said.

A spokesman for the state Department of Justice, Johnny Koremenos, said in a statement that it will not appeal or seek a stay of the order.

“After yet another attempt by the plaintiffs to strike down voter ID, the law remains in effect for the November election,” Koremenos said.

Peterson entered the formal order Thursday night.

Under the voter ID law, the Division of Motor Vehicles provides free IDs to voters who lack them. The DMV also oversees what’s at issue at this stage of the years-long legal battle over the law: the petition process to get a temporary voting credential for a small subset of voters who lack both an ID and the underlying documents, such a birth certificate, to get one.

A recent investigation by the voting rights group VoteRiders showed staffers at DMV locations throughout the state gave inaccurate information to people who came seeking IDs — particularly people who lacked the underlying documents and might have needed to enter the petition process.

DMV officials have said everyone who enters the petition process promptly receives a temporary voting credential, as is required by an order Peterson issued in July.

But Peterson, speaking to attorneys in the case in court Thursday, said that may not matter because the process has been so poorly publicized — and DMV staffers so poorly trained in how to administer it.

“One of the problems here is that people may not be getting into the process because they’re not getting the right information about it,” Peterson said.

Peterson said more information must be circulated about what it takes to enter and complete the petition process. He said he’ll require documents with that information be provided to DMV locations and outreach groups — and that changes must be made to state websites to better publicize the process — by Monday.

The state must make clear to voters who lack IDs that even if they don’t have all the required documents, they can go to the DMV and get a credential to vote, Peterson said.

Peterson rejected a request from the plaintiffs that he require DMVs to issue voting credentials to people the same day they go to DMV offices to enter the petition process. Attorneys for the state said doing so would allow petitioners to bypass identity verification measures, such as running their picture through facial-recognition software, they typically go through before issuing an ID by mail.

Currently, those who enter the petition process are to be mailed a temporary voting credential no later than six days after they enter the process unless the state can show they’re ineligible. But audio recordings produced by VoteRiders showed that information was not conveyed to several of the group’s volunteers, who instead were told they might not get IDs in time to vote in November.

Wisconsin Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas testified to the court Wednesday that the commission had done all it could to publicize the petition process, despite limited resources.

The Legislature provided the commission with $250,000 to publicize the voter ID requirement. North Carolina, another state that recently implemented a similarl voter ID law, set aside $2 million for a publicity campaign.

Peterson, who was given authority by a federal appeals court to ensure the state complies with his July order, said Thursday he’ll require more steps be taken in the coming weeks and after the election to improve the process.

DMV officials said last week that, in the wake of the VoteRiders revelations, they have ramped up training of their field staff to ensure everyone understands voter ID procedures.

“One of the problems here is that people may not be getting into the process because they’re not getting the right information about it.” Judge James Peterson

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