Citizens without IDs are caught in ‘Catch 22’

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Andrea Kaminski
February 11, 2012

Need a photo ID to vote? You’ll have to show a certified birth certificate.

Need a certified birth certificate? Show a photo ID!

Citizens who do not have acceptable government-issued photo IDs for voting in Wisconsin are finding themselves caught in a bureaucratic loop. If they need a copy of their Wisconsin birth certificate to obtain a voting ID, they will be asked to supply a government-issued photo ID!

A few weeks ago, you could order a copy of a Wisconsin birth certificate by mail without this documentation. You had to provide a lot of information, such as your parents’ names and your date and place of birth, and then the postal service provided the final check by not delivering a birth certificate if the person does not live at the address. Now the DHS Vital Records Office has revised its policies to request that citizens include a copy of a government-issued photo ID with their mailed or in-person request for a birth certificate.

The voter ID law is disenfranchising people who have been active citizens and regular voters, including many seniors. For example, Florence Hessing, a 96-year-old resident of Bayfield, has voted regularly for decades. Her Wisconsin driver’s license expired years ago, and she will have to get a new state ID in order to vote.

The first thing Florence and her husband noticed was that the Division of Motor Vehicles does not make it immediately clear that you can obtain a voting ID for free. She read that she would have to pay $28. Even when Florence learned you can get a free ID for voting if you specifically ask for one at the DMV, she ran into barriers. She needed to provide a certified copy of her birth certificate. But when Florence wrote to the county in Iowa where she was born in 1916, the county could not find a birth certificate for her.

The League of Women Voters has heard from many people facing similar bureaucratic barriers—especially older people like Florence, disabled people and women who have changed their names.

The voter ID law is burdening—and threatening to deny—people’s constitutional right to vote.

As a nonpartisan organization founded in 1920 by women suffragists, the League of Women Voters knows voter suppression when we see it. Proponents of the ID law have not produced a single case of voter impersonation in Wisconsin, but they enacted a law that is a financial burden for taxpayers and a nightmare for many voters.

The league is doing all we can to help citizens like Florence obtain the ID they need to participate in their government. At the same time, the league is challenging the voter ID law in court based on the Wisconsin constitution.

Unlike the proponents of this law, we are interested in facilitating—not burdening—citizens’ right to vote.

Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, 612 W. Main St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53703; phone (608) 256-0827; website www.lwvwi.org. The nonprofit network promotes informed and active participation in government. There are 16 local leagues in Wisconsin.

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