DMVs voter ID (copy)

Employees help customers at the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles Madison East office in 2014. DMV offices are tasked with issuing voter ID cards for free to voters who need them.

AMBER ARNOLD — State Journal

State officials said Tuesday they believe the process by which Wisconsin issues free voter identification cards is a sound one. However, they said they are seriously investigating recent news reports that Division of Motor Vehicles employees gave inaccurate information to people seeking IDs. 

"We believe that the process is a sound process that will not disenfranchise any voter," said Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, speaking to a legislative committee.

Gottlieb and DMV Administrator Kristina Boardman also said DMV workers are being retrained on how to administer free IDs.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson ordered the DMV earlier this week to investigate reports in The Nation and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a 34-year-old homeless man was given inaccurate information from DMV employees.

Since the initial report, the Journal Sentinel has written about several similar instances throughout the state. Recordings of the interactions were provided by VoteRiders, a group that opposes voter ID laws and works to help people obtain IDs in states that require them for voting.

The judge instructed the state to investigate the allegations detailed in the media and provide a report to the court by Oct. 7.

"We still have plenty of time to right any wrongs that may have occurred," Boardman told reporters on Tuesday.

Gottlieb and Boardman said they are still investigating those reports, in conjunction with the state Department of Justice. 

Gottlieb said they are still seeking full transcripts of the recordings VoteRiders released to reporters. A VoteRiders representative did not immediately respond to an interview request.

In the meantime, both Gottlieb and Boardman said the DMV continues to train its workers on the ID process.

"This is obviously a somewhat complex process so we’re always looking to improve," Gottlieb said.

Since July 1, 2011, when the state started to issue free IDs, the DMV has issued 504,054 cards, Gottlieb said. Since the ID petition process, or IDPP — which helps people who don't have the proper documentation obtain IDs — has been in place, 98 percent of people who applied have been given an ID without having to enter the IDPP, he said.

Hundreds of DMV employees throughout the state will be required to participate in a new online training exercise and have one-on-one conversations with supervisors by Friday, Gottlieb said.

In addition, anyone who goes to a DMV bureau seeking an ID will now be given a piece of paper with information including a hotline phone number they can call to report a negative experience.

In his July decision, Peterson overturned laws that limited in-person absentee voting to one location. Peterson also struck down laws that limited early voting hours and eliminated weekend voting, increased the residency requirement for voters from 10 days to 28 days, prohibited distributing absentee ballots by fax or email and required "dorm lists" used as proof of residence to include citizenship information, and a provision of the voter ID law banning the use of expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs at the polls.

Peterson in July found the IDPP system did not require "wholesale invalidation," but that it did not act as an effective safety net for qualified electors who struggle to obtain proper IDs.

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"The IDPP is pretty much a disaster," Peterson wrote, later referring to it as a "wretched failure."

Under Peterson's July ruling, once a petitioner submits sufficient materials, the state Division of Motor Vehicles must "promptly issue a credential valid for voting, unless readily available information shows that the petitioner is not a qualified elector entitled to such a credential." The state must also "inform the general public" of that process.

"Petitioners and the public must be informed that these credentials have a term equivalent to that of a driver license or Wisconsin ID, and that they will be valid for voting until they expire or are revoked for good cause," Peterson wrote.

After hearing testimony Tuesday from Boardman, Gottlieb and others, the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted to approve a 60-day extension of an emergency rule implemented earlier this summer

The rule allows the DMV to issue receipts to would-be voters who are in the process of obtaining a photo ID but aren't able to provide the necessary documents in time for an election. Voters are able to cast ballots with those temporary receipts.

Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said he believes DMV and DOT are making a "good faith effort" to rectify problems by Election Day. Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, argued extending the rule does nothing to fix "major problems" with the voter ID law.

Democrats on the committee, who voted against extending the rule, argued lawmakers should instead overturn the voter ID law in its entirety. One Wisconsin Institute, one of the plaintiffs in the case that spurred Peterson's ruling, made the same call.

“The state is in violation of a federal court order and instead of of spending time considering administrative rules that aren’t being followed anyway, the legislature ought to return and immediately suspend the voter ID law," said One Wisconsin Institute research director Jenni Dye.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.