By Ruth Conniff
Update 10/09/2014: The Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling on Thursday evening, October 9, blocking Wisconsin's voter ID law and allowing the November election to go forward without the new voter ID requirements.
In the home stretch before election day in November, voting rights groups in Wisconsin are grappling with one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
Governor Scott Walker and his opponent Mary Burke have been tied in the polls for months.
In a tight race where the outcome will depend largely on turnout, the effect of the new voter ID law will be crucial.
Yet the state agencies charged with implementing voter ID for the November 4 election say they have no additional money set aside to help voters and state workers comply with the new law, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.
The Government Accountability Board does have detailed information on the specific types of ID that will be accepted for voting in the November election, as well as how to obtain a free state ID on the web site BringIt.Wisconsin.org.
Opponents of voter ID point out that in-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, and argue that the voter ID requirement is a transparent attempt by Republicans to win the election by making Democratic voters, including students, the poor, and people of color, ineligible to vote.
The short timeline for implementing voter ID, and the lack of information for voters, is bound to lead to confusion and chaos at the polls.
So where is the ground game to overcome the new restrictions?
“The party is focused on making sure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot,” says state Democratic Party communications director Melissa Baldauff.
But the state party itself is not working on getting people who don’t have photo ID to the department of motor vehicles to get the new state ID they will need to vote.
“My understanding is that independent community organizations will be working with people,” says Baldauff. “We will encourage people to seek out those groups so we can continue to focus on our efforts on voter education and turnout.”
On University of Wisconsin campuses, where students need to get an updated ID card (the standard student ID doesn't meet the new law's requirements), plus bring proof of enrollment to the polls, a team of college organizers is getting the word out, and a UW web site gives more details.
Mike Wilder, issue coordinator at Wisconsin Voices, is organizing a get-out-the-vote and voter ID drive in communities around the state.
Wisconsin Voices is an umbrella organization of 70 groups, including the ACLU, League of Women Voters, and the United Council of Students, that are concerned with democracy, voting rights, and civic engagement.
The groups have been going door to door in Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, and Appleton, handing out pledge cards for voters to sign as they make a promise to vote, Wilder says.
The pledge cards have space for voters to sign up to volunteer, and ask whether they need to get voter ID. Wilder’s group is giving rides to the DMV to those who need a free state ID card.
“We are taking the next group on Friday afternoon,” he said. “That’s a good time because it’s a slow time for the DMV.”
“Our goal was to reach 30,000 voters, and so far we’ve mailed about 20,000 cards. I think we will get close to the 30,000,” Wilder says.
The pledge card campaign was specifically designed to target drop-off voters—those who tend to turn out only in Presidential election years.
“A lot of them will be the same voters that don’t have ID,” says Wilder.
In April, when District court judge Lynn Adelman issued an injunction against the voter ID law, which was overturned last month, he estimated that 300,000 registered voters across the state lack the IDs they need to vote.
“But we are not seeing that high a number,” Wilder said. “A lot of people are confused. They do have an acceptable form of ID but they don’t know it—there’s a lot of confusion about what’s acceptable.”
That confusion is exacerbated by the lack of funds for a public information campaign by the Government Accountability Board, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Department of Health Services.
To remedy the problem, One Wisconsin Now is urging Wisconsin media to donate air time and ad space for photo ID education.
“This is a great opportunity for the broadcasters that use the public airwaves to step up and do a great public service, helping ensure legal voters are able to cast their vote in November,” says One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “We’re calling on Wisconsin’s media – TV, radio and newspapers – to donate airtime and ad space to help raise awareness about the requirements of the new photo ID requirement.”
The most recent Marquette University Law School Poll found that nearly one in five Wisconsin voters are unaware of the photo ID requirement that will be in place in the November elections.
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.