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A judge's decision tomorrow on voter ID in Wisconsin could have an impact on the election


Wisconsin has been messing up administration of its voter ID law, federal judge says

Watch |  Wisconsin's voter ID law could be suspended before the election

A federal judge on Wednesday will consider whether to temporarily suspend Wisconsin's controversial law requiring voters to bring photo identification with them to the polls, and voting rights advocates say the outcome of the ruling could impact the presidential election. 

The legal challenge to the voter ID law, filed last week, alleges that Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles employees have been giving inaccurate information to people seeking voting credentials, sometimes wrongly turning people away when they should have been able to obtain an ID. 

Voters denied ID?

"Legal voters in places all across Wisconsin are being inaccurate and incorrect information and being denied the ID they need in order to vote," said Scot Ross, the executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group that filed the legal challenge.

At his office in Madison, Ross told Circa that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's administration has not ensured that state DMV workers were aware of the myriad ways voters could obtain valid photo ID before election day. 

[State officials] are either unwilling or unable to administer a voter ID law here in Wisconsin.
Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now

Ross also said the state has not adequately administered a legally required public information campaign to educate voters on the voter ID law. The upcoming election will be the first presidential contest  in which Wisconsin voters will be required to bring ID. 

"The state is  not spending real money to inform citizens about the law changes," he said.

Winning other ways

The result, Ross said, is that "people will be denied the right to vote" if the law is allowed to remain in place on Election Day.

Ross said those people denied the right to vote would lean overwhelmingly Democratic -- and that the Republican Walker administration knows it.

"Scott Walker and the Republicans can't win the will of the people at the ballot box in presidential election years, so they're trying to rig the laws so they can win that way," he said. A Republican hasn't won Wisconsin's electoral college since 1984.

GOP lauds voter ID

Some Republicans in Wisconsin have indeed acknowledged that voter ID laws could be used for political gain.

In an April interview, for instance, Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman said the state's ID law would weaken Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the state.

This summer, a federal court required Wisconsin to make some changes to its voter ID law. U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote that the law disenfranchised citizens "particularly in minority communities" that tend to vote Democratic.

Glenn Grothman: Photo ID will help GOP nominee win Wisconsin

WATCH  | Here's Grothman saying "now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a difference" in getting a Republican to win Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes.

The state hits back

The state, however, has disagreed with Ross's allegations.

On Friday, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel asked Judge Peterson, who is considering Ross's request, to reject it. He says that while there were problems at DMV offices, they have already been fixed.

"DMV has taken very seriously the reports in recent media accounts about inaccurate communications about the [voter ID law]," he said, adding the DMV "has now implemented top-to-bottom corrective measures."

A tough legal road ahead

While Ross said he believes the lawsuit has a strong chance, some legal experts have doubts. In interviews with Wisconsin Public Radio, some court watchers gave their opinions on whether the voter ID law would be overturned before the election.

"I think that's unlikely," Steven Wright, a clinical instructor at University of Wisconsin Law School told WPR. 

"The U.S. Supreme Court and other federal appellate courts have cautioned judges against changing the rules so close to election day," he added.

Voters scrambling to get ID

In the meantime, some voters across the state are scrambling to obtain valid identification before Election Day, which is just four weeks away. Many are contacting the organization VoteRiders, which educates voters on how to meet the requirements of photo ID laws and other issues.

Molly McGrath, VoteRiders' national campaign coordinator, told Circa on Thursday that she and her team had 300 phone calls to get through over the weekend. 

I need to get an ID so I can vote. I really need someone to get ahold of me ASAP.
Voicemail to Molly McGrath

'I need to get an ID so I can vote'

In her home office, McGrath played one of the many pleas for help she says she receives on a daily basis.

These calls are the norm, McGrath said. "We get calls from voters who don't know exactly what they need to take with them or aren't sure or don't know where to start to get an ID," she said.

It's not too late to get ID

McGrath and VoteRiders are also involved in the legal challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law.

The group provided recordings to One Wisconsin Now of voters at 10 different DMV offices getting varying information about the requirements under the law. Those recordings are the main basis of the allegation that the DMV is improperly administering the law. 

While McGrath said she believes the law could suppress voter turnout, she said she also wants voters to know it's not too late to get an ID before Election Day.

'My worst nightmare'

"That's my worst nightmare, that somebody doesn't know that there's someone out there who wants to help them and is willing to help them get everything they need for them to vote," she said.

Voters who need help obtaining ID before Election Day can get free assistance by contacting VoteRiders at VoteRiders.org. 

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