By Todd Richmond
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — People working to obtain state photo identification without the proper underlying documents will be able to vote with a receipt under an emergency rule Gov. Scott Walker signed Wednesday.
The rule is designed to blunt a pair of lawsuits alleging voters who lack the proper documents face tough hurdles in obtaining free identification. A trial is set to begin in one of the cases in federal court Monday, although the judge could decide the matter yet this week on his own. A status conference is set for Thursday in the other case.
Walker’s office said the changes will take effect by Friday.
“The more we can do to improve the process, the more likely it is it will be upheld in federal court,” the governor said.
Republicans passed a law in 2011 requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. They justified the measure as a way of fighting voter fraud, although there’s no evidence of any such widespread fraud.
The law allows people to obtain free IDs for voting from the state Department of Transportation upon request. People seeking IDs without the underlying documents to verify their identity, address and citizenship can petition the agency to make an exception for them. If that process is unsuccessful, the agency might still issue an ID card if it receives documentation a Division of Motor Vehicle administrator believes proves identity.
Under the new rule, if the agency can’t resolve an applicant’s petition within five days he or she will get a free receipt in the mail within six days of submitting the petition. The person will be able to use the receipt to vote. A fiscal estimate notes that the DMV anticipates issuing about 442 receipts and 55 receipt renewals annually at a cost of about $240.
The rule goes on to establish steps for processing petitions. ID card applicants also won’t have to provide a social security number; the DOT must provide a translator for applicants who can’t read or understand notices related to their petition and the DMV must approve name changes if applicants provide affidavits.
Liberal group One Wisconsin Institute Inc., social justice group Citizen Action of Wisconsin and a number of voters filed a federal lawsuit in June challenging multiple changes Republicans have made to state election law since 2011, chief among them the voter ID requirement.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson tossed out their broad challenge to voter ID in December, noting a federal appellate court upheld the mandate in 2014. But he has allowed them to continue to pursue allegations that other parts of the voter ID law burden minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies.
Part of their argument alleges the process for obtaining free IDs is too onerous, driving applicants to give up. They also contend the current petition process lacks standards and the state has been administering the process arbitrarily.
One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross said in a statement the group’s attorneys were reviewing the rule. The statement accused the Walker administration of repeatedly manipulating voting rules to gain a partisan advantage.
The plaintiffs and the state Justice Department, which is defending the election laws, have asked Peterson to decide the case without a trial. Jenni Dye, research director for One Wisconsin Institute, said she expects Peterson to rule this week.
A federal judge in Milwaukee, meanwhile, is considering a voter ID lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty. The groups argue people who face tough hurdles in getting free IDs should get to vote with an affidavit attesting to their identity.
A status conference in that case is set for Thursday.