Among Wisconsinites who lack ID cards and other documents proving their identity, race is a key factor in who requests free IDs to vote and whose requests are approved, according to data cited Monday in a court trial of a challenge to the state’s voter ID requirement.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are progressive groups and individuals who say they faced hardships to vote under recent election changes in Wisconsin. The most prominent of those is voter ID, set to take effect in a presidential election for the first time this November.
Monday brought the second week of a trial of the suit in federal court in Wisconsin’s Western District. Attorneys questioned administrators for the Wisconsin DMV, which issues free voting IDs to those who request one and lack another state-issued ID card.
The division also oversees a petition process for those who request a free voting ID but lack underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, required to obtain one.
Such petitioners are few in number. But they’re central to the plaintiffs’ legal argument that voter ID disproportionately harms racial minorities, young people and the very poor.
Members of those demographic groups are less likely to have a driver’s license or other ID and also are less likely to have the underlying documents to get a free voting ID from the state, according to several expert witnesses in the suit.
Some individual cases highlighted in the trial dealt with people whose names were misspelled on their birth certificates. Others were elderly African-Americans born in the Jim Crow South — circumstances in which record-keeping often was incomplete.
The state, as defendant in the suit, contends DMV staffers have worked extensively with those who request a free ID to help them get one.
On Monday, the plaintiffs highlighted DMV data showing racial disparities in those who requested free IDs, as well as which of those requests were rejected.
Two-thirds of the 981 people who used the petition process to request free IDs through April 19 were minorities, who make up 12 percent of the state’s citizen voting age population. That’s according to data submitted by the DMV to Allan Lichtman, an expert witness for the plaintiffs.
Through May 12, the number who filed such petitions was up to 1,389, Kristina Boardman, DMV administrator, testified Monday. The majority of those petitioners, 1,132, successfully obtained IDs through the process, she said.
The plaintiffs have focused on the handful of petitions that were rejected, arguing those voters were unlawfully disenfranchised. Of the 61 people whose requests were denied through May 13, 85 percent, or 52 of them, were African-American, Latino or Native American.
The plaintiffs in the suit also cited cases of people who waited months or years to get a free ID after they requested one. In at least one case, a petitioner reportedly died while waiting for the state to issue them a free ID.
Gov. Scott Walker earlier this month issued a rule he said is aimed at helping people to vote in the November election if they’re stalled in the petition process. It allows DMVs to issue temporary receipts to use in lieu of ID cards to those who are in the process of obtaining ID cards for voting but can’t produce the necessary documents before the election.
Walker’s office said the rule could help those who have errors on documentation, such as a misspelled name on a birth certificate.