Dane County has recently been criticized for funding a study with UW-Madison that looked at the specific effects of the new photo ID law on voting patterns in Dane and Milwaukee counties. Apparently, some believe it is inappropriate to study this issue at the local level.
But in Wisconsin, elections are a function of local government. We register people to vote, create the ballots, issue absentee ballots, program and test voting equipment and report election night results. We also train poll workers and educate voters on the voting process. And beginning with the 2016 election cycle, that process now includes Wisconsin’s strict photo ID law, which is also one of the most complex in the nation.
The new photo ID law is why Dane County worked with the university to ensure student voting-compliant IDs were widely accessible on campus and why we created public service announcements on the topic. We also partnered with VoteRiders, a national nonprofit assisting people in obtaining photo IDs.
Local governments engaged in substantial outreach efforts to educate voters on the new law. The natural next question is: Were they effective? Before we commissioned this study, all of the information we had was anecdotal. The study’s findings, however, were shocking.
The study found that Wisconsin’s photo ID law deterred 11 percent of survey respondents from voting. This corresponds to 17,000 registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties and an estimated 40,000 voters statewide. These are people who proactively registered ahead of the election, who had already taken the first crucial step to voting. In fact, 80 percent of those surveyed had voted in the 2012 November election.
Moreover, many of these respondents had acceptable photo ID for voting, yet still cited lack of a required photo ID as the reason they didn’t vote. This phenomenon was previously unknown in Wisconsin. This study will change voter education and outreach efforts in the County Clerk’s Office, and should all across the state.
But the fact remains that confusion and misinformation surrounding the law are a de facto feature of this insidious law. The photo ID law is a local issue, just as much as it is a state one. We believe government has a moral responsibility to voters to enact laws that don’t confuse and hinder electoral participation.
If state lawmakers have any decency, the photo ID law should be suspended until it is amended to ensure that all Wisconsin residents have access to the ballot box. The Dane County Board will consider Resolution No. 248, putting the county on record for calling a temporary suspension of the photo ID law. The meeting is on Thursday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m., in Room 201 of the City County Building in Madison. The public is encouraged to attend and testify at the meeting.