By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A federal hearing over Wisconsin’s voter-ID law began Monday with several minority witnesses, many of whom said their efforts to obtain a state-issued ID were met with bureaucratic obstacles that took time, money and legal assistance to overcome.
Wisconsin residents can get a state ID from a Department of Motor Vehicles by presenting documents such as a certified birth certificate, passport or Social Security card. Each document must be unexpired, and the person’s name must be spelled identically on each document. That’s a problem for people who either lack the documents or have their names misspelled on a key document.
One Milwaukee woman testified on behalf of her late mother, who was delivered at home in Jackson, Tenn., in 1935 by a midwife who never registered the birth, hence leaving the woman without a birth certificate. Another person said his birth certificate put his suffix “junior” in the wrong place, making his name different than on his Social Security card. A third was a Polish woman whose name was Anglicized on some documents, leading to several IDs that spelled her name differently.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law was only in effect for the February 2012 primary. It was later blocked when a Dane County judge handling a separate state lawsuit declared the measure unconstitutional, and it remains on hold. Advocates have pursued a federal trial while that decision and others are appealed.
Supporters of the Republican-backed law say it helps combat voter fraud, but opponents allege it disproportionately affects poor and minority voters.
The plaintiffs in the federal case include the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The groups argue that minorities are less likely to have state-issued IDs, and are less likely to have birth certificates or other documents required to get an ID.
Most people who testified Monday said they’ve voted for years with no problem, even if they didn’t have a driver’s license or passport. They said they didn’t want to run afoul of voter ID regulations so they tried to get state IDs, but that’s when they ran into problems.
Eddie Holloway Jr., 55, of Milwaukee, testified that his name is written correctly on his Social Security card as but as Eddie Junior Holloway on his birth certificate. When he brought his birth certificate to a state DMV to get an ID the clerk denied his request because the names weren’t identical.
“They said I have two identities,” he said.
An 85-year-old Polish woman was born Ganava Kujansky in Gary, Ind., but she has gone by Genevieve Winslow ever since she was a schoolgirl. A Wisconsin DMV was going to give her a state ID with her original name on it, but that wouldn’t have matched any of her other documents, she said. The DMV relented only after a state lawmaker intervened, she said.
John Ulin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he plans to produce expert witnesses in coming days who will testify that voter fraud isn’t a problem in Wisconsin.
The lawsuit lists members of the Government Accountability Board as defendants because the state board enforces the voter ID law.
Attorney Clayton Kawski, who is defending the state and the voter-ID law, dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments that the measure imposes undue burdens on minorities. He said one of his witnesses is a professor from the University of Georgia who did a before-and-after analysis when that state passed similar voter-ID requirements. The analysis found no racial disparity in how the law was applied, he said.
“There is one key fact here: Just because a voter in Wisconsin does not currently have a voter ID does not mean the voter is incapable of ever getting a voter ID,” he said.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.