voter id DMV hearing

A federal judge last week ordered the state to investigate reports that Division of Motor Vehicles staffers gave false information to people who requested free IDs to vote.

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Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials told state lawmakers Tuesday they’re training employees in response to reports that they misinformed people seeking voter IDs at Division of Motor Vehicles locations throughout the state.

It was the latest effort by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to assure lawmakers and the public that no one who’s eligible to vote will be barred from doing so because of the state’s voter ID requirement.

The administration seeks to defuse criticism that it is bungling implementation of the requirement five weeks before the first presidential election in which it is in effect.

“We still have plenty of time to right any wrongs that may have occurred,” DMV administrator Kristina Boardman told reporters Tuesday.

DMV staffers are being trained on the ID process this week, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb told lawmakers.

The testimony came at a legislative panel hearing on whether to extend an emergency voter ID rule issued by Walker in May.

Gottlieb told lawmakers that 332 voters who previously were stuck in a state petition process to obtain an ID have been given a temporary credential they can use to vote in November. The petition process is for a small subset of voters who lack IDs as well as the underlying documents, such as birth certificates or passports, needed to get one from the state.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Democratic lawmakers said the DMV may have created an unnavigable process to provide voter IDs.

“The real concern here is that people are going to be discouraged, that they’re not going to follow through with the process, that it becomes too cumbersome,” said Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit.

The legislative panel voted 4-3, on party lines, to extend Walker’s rule through the Nov. 8 election. It requires the DMV to issue temporary voting credentials within six business days to people who petition the state because they lack an ID as well as the underlying documents to get one.

Much of Tuesday’s debate centered on news reports on recently released audio recordings of exchanges between DMV staffers and volunteers for the group VoteRiders. The initial report was by The Nation magazine.

Transcripts of the recordings were entered into evidence Tuesday in a federal court challenge to the voter ID law brought by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute.

A brief by the plaintiffs accompanying the transcripts asks federal Judge James Peterson to immediately lift Wisconsin’s voter ID requirement “unless and until the State can demonstrate that eligible voters will no longer be disenfranchised.”

The recordings prompted Peterson to order the DMV to investigate if voters were being given inaccurate information.

That report is due to the court Friday.

VoteRiders provided copies of the audio recordings to the Wisconsin State Journal Tuesday. In them, staffers at DMV locations around the state appear to try to assist the VoteRiders volunteer, Susan McGrath, who says she’s seeking an ID for a relative who wants to vote and doesn’t have access to her birth certificate.

But DMV staffers at several locations give the woman incorrect information. In some cases, it contradicts both Walker’s rule and Peterson’s July court order, which said people who enter the voter ID petition process must promptly be given temporary voting credentials.

At a DMV office in Hudson, the staffer tells the woman that “you’re not guaranteed to get an ID card” and “it’s going to take a while to get it.”

At the Wisconsin Rapids DMV, a staffer says completing the petition process could take an indefinite amount of time.

Despite that, Gottlieb — under questioning from Democratic lawmakers — said there’s no fundamental flaw in the department’s process for providing IDs. The department has issued more than 500,000 free ID cards since 2011, Gottlieb said Tuesday.

“We believe that the process is a sound process that certainly will not disenfranchise any voters,” Gottlieb said.

Spreitzer and his Democratic colleagues on the panel who attended the hearing, Sens. Mark Miller, D-Monona, and Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, asked the committee to request the Legislature go into extraordinary session to eliminate the voter ID requirement. The motion was rejected on a 4-3 party-line vote.

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.