May 27, 2012 at 6:26 AM
Voter identification laws growing in number in Wisconsin and beyond; Washington stays same
Wisconsin’s Act 23 voter ID law, passed in 2011 and considered to be one of the nation’s strictest, is on hold until court rulings at the end of June. This means it won’t be in effect for the June 5 recall election for Governor Scott Walker, who worked with Republican legislators to pass the law. Washington has a voter ID law as well, but with some important differences.
MILWAUKEE — Six months ago, 27-year-old Lyterrell Stokes took a half-day off work and paid a friend $10 to drive him to the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to a public affidavit. Stokes, a registered voter who’s lived in Wisconsin for most of his life and has voted in previous elections, was on a mission: to get a photo ID so that he could vote.
Wisconsin’s Act 23 voter ID law, passed in 2011, requires that people show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. In March, one judge declared the law unconstitutional and another ordered an injunction, immediately halting it until further review. Stokes was one of the plaintiffs in a voter-ID lawsuit filed by the NAACP and immigration group Voces de la Frontera against Governor Scott Walker and other Wisconsin Republicans who passed the law.
To be clear, the voter ID law won’t be in effect for the June 5 recall election. It may be overturned at the end of June and implemented for upcoming primaries in August.
Walker wasn’t pleased with the court rulings:
Voter ID is a common sense & constitutional reform.Time for activist Dane County judges to stop blocking law.
— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) March 12, 2012
If re-enacted, Wisconsin’s Act 23 would push it onto the growing list of states with photo ID laws — considered more strict than other voter ID laws in other states. Just this past week Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell signed his state’s voter ID bill, which also requires people to show photo ID before voting. Most states have a form of voter-ID law that requires voters to give some evidence that they’re the person they claim to be.
Washington state has a voter ID law. But in the language of voter-ID laws, Washington’s is considered less strict than Wisconsin’s, because it doesn’t require a citizen to furnish a photo ID. Instead, Washington checks identity by requiring voters to sign a ballot declaration that says the information they’ve given is truthful, that they’re 18 or older, are a Washington state resident and aren’t a convicted felon. Signatures are then matched to state records — the one used when registering to vote. If signatures don’t line up, the voter is notified and given a chance to give another signature before the election is certified.
Voter ID laws are a matter of heated debate, both on a state and national level. The Obama administration blocked a Texas voter photo ID law in March, and a similar one in South Carolina in December.
Research conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Kenneth Meyer, who testified as an expert in one of the four voter ID lawsuits, claims that hundreds of thousands of people would be hurt by Wisconsin’s law. He found through drivers license data that minority groups, the poor and the elderly are least likely to have a current drivers license.
People in favor of strict photo ID laws say they help prevent fraud.
“The voters of Wisconsin deserve to have fair elections and not have to worry about voter fraud,” said Ciara Matthews, Walker’s communication director. “That’s what the law sought to do, and we hope that the courts will inevitably stand with the state and governor and restore the voter ID law.”
Some are not too concerned about voter fraud.
“The Government Accountability Board has not seen any evidence of voter fraud in the state of Wisconsin,” said Reid Magney, public information officer of the Board he referenced. “To our knowledge, Wisconsin is the only state with a voter ID law that doesn’t permit a voter who doesn’t have one of the acceptable types of ID to file an affidavit that says, ‘I am who I am.’”
Voting in Washington state looks way different than it does in Wisconsin — instead of heading to the polls, people mail their ballots.
Katie Blinn, state elections co-director, said that the state doesn’t exactly keep a list of forgery. These issues are prosecuted at a local level.
“It’s rare that a case is actually forwarded to a prosecutor’s office or sheriff’s office for charging,” Blinn said. There aren’t many cases of voter forgery in Washington.
If someone were to cast their ballot at a voting center, they could potentially provide a photo ID in lieu of signing the ballot declaration. Blinn said the ID doesn’t necessarily have to be a driver’s license or a state ID card, but it still must contain a photo.
“In the spectrum of any identification, government-issued photo IDs, we’re pretty much in the middle there,” Blinn said.
Unlike Wisconsin’s gubernatorial candidates who are duking it out in the recall election, Washington’s own could-be governors don’t seem to be thinking about voter ID laws much.
“We should be encouraging as many citizens as possible to vote and participate in democracy,” said Sterling Stafford, Jay Inslee’s spokesman.
Rob McKenna and his campaign did not immediately return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment. McKenna hasn’t spoken publicly about voter ID laws.
Washington’s non-debate over voter ID laws is a sharp contrast to Wisconsin’s.