Wisconsin's solicitor general said Thursday the state's voter ID law is "quite permissive" and should serve as a model for the rest of the country.
"Wisconsin's voter ID law is often characterized in, what I would say, the partisan press, as one of the more stringent voter ID laws. I think that’s certainly not true now," said solicitor general Misha Tseytlin. "Wisconsin might be the most permissive state in the union in terms of how someone can get photo ID to satisfy the photo ID law."
Tseytlin debated the merits and implementation of the law as part of a panel discussion in Madison hosted by the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society, featuring Pines Bach attorney Susan Crawford, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and University of Wisconsin Law School professor emeritus Bill Whitford. UW Law assistant professor Rob Yablon led the discussion.
Passed in 2011, the state's voter ID law has gone through a series of legal challenges, roadblocks and court-ordered changes. November will mark the first presidential election with the law in place.
A federal judge in July declined to overturn the law, but did strike down several related election laws that limited in-person absentee voting to one location, limited early voting hours and eliminated weekend voting.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson also overturned laws that 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.
Peterson also required changes to the ID petition process, by which free IDs are issued, and overturned a provision of the voter ID law banning the use of expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs at the polls.
Earlier this month, Peterson ordered the state to immediately provide more information to help people seeking state-issued voting credentials navigate the process.
The liberal group One Wisconsin Institute had asked the judge to either suspend the voter ID law or put in place remedial measures to address issues with the IDPP. The request came after media reports based on recordings from the advocacy group VoteRiders indicated Division of Motor Vehicles workers gave inaccurate information to people seeking IDs.
Tseytlin argued Thursday the problems documented in the media and in court are overblown and amount to a fraction of a percentage of the people who have gone through the process.
The state has made a series of improvements — some voluntary and some mandated by the court — to ensure most voters seeking an ID can obtain one, he said.
"We are trying very hard to correct any errors," Tseytlin said.
But Crawford argued the state's program, as it stands, is unsustainable.
The problem with Wisconsin's voter ID law, she said, is that it lacks a sufficient safety net.
Wisconsin voters who show up to the polls without the proper ID can cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted if the voter can show a qualifying ID within three days. Crawford, who has represented the League of Women Voters in ongoing litigation against the law, contrasted that with other states that offer the ability for those voters to sign an affidavit swearing to their identity.
"To me, it would be acceptable if we had a voter ID law in this state that had an affidavit process built into it," Crawford said, adding there are still additional improvements to the law that she would suggest.
McDonell also argued in support of allowing an affidavit process. As an elections administrator, one of the biggest challenges McDonell said he has with the voter ID law is its ability to slow down lines at polling places.
The court-ordered expansion of early voting opportunities may alleviate that problem, he said.
McDonell said voter ID requirements seem to place a greater emphasis on preventing fraud than on ensuring no one is disenfranchised, adding that in-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in Dane County.
Tseytlin noted that a commission chaired by former president Jimmy Carter found there is "very little" voter fraud, but said voters may lose confidence in elections if they see voter ID laws being questioned and struck down.
"If we can create a system where it’s easy to get photo ID, one trip to the DMV, and people will have more confidence in the system, that is a good thing," Tseytlin said.
Crawford agreed, but said an affidavit option would go a long way to help make the law more sound.
"If you’re willing to swear under penalty of perjury that you are who you say you are and you’re an eligible voter, you should be allowed to vote and not be disenfranchised because you don’t have the piece of plastic that the government issued," Crawford said.