Court Ruling Leaves Voter ID Procedure in the Hands of the Wisconsin DMV

Aug 4, 2014

Some say a state Supreme Court ruling involving Voter ID could lead to more lawsuits.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court stirred some confusion last week, with its Voter ID ruling. It indicates that the DMV must set the standards for obtaining free identification.

The high court upheld the state law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. But the court added – that the law cannot require people to spend money, to obtain the necessary documents.

The document some justices seemed to have in mind, when considering Wisconsin’s Voter ID law, is birth certificates. They can cost $20 or more, and people may need them in order to obtain government identification to vote.

The court apparently thought the Voter ID law would then amount to a poll tax, so it implemented what’s called a ‘saving construction’ to keep the law constitutional. Justices left it up to the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles to decide how to accommodate people who can’t obtain a free birth certificate. That’s where confusion and perhaps long lines, enter the picture, according to UW-Madison Political Scientist Barry Burden.

“We don’t know what a person would have to do, how they would have to demonstrate to show they were unable to get the right documents that would be needed under the law. That would be left to the discretion of those front line works in the DMV,” Burden says.

Burden says, the DMV will probably have to come up with rules or guidelines for its employees.

“Will there be paperwork for a person who’s unable to afford or get the documents? That’s a possibility. Will there be a wider range of documents that will be permitted under the law now? That’s a possibility,” Burden says.

Several state Republican leaders have expressed concerns about voter fraud, resulting from the high court decision. For instance, might a DMV worker allow someone who should not obtain an ID to vote, to get one? Burden thinks the ruling might ultimately lead to more lawsuits.

“If the new procedures are not advertised to voters or if they’re implemented in an uneven way, I think there’s still concern out there the law might be unfair or it might burden some voters more than others and be unconstitutional for different reasons,” Burden says.

Burden doesn’t expect any such problems soon. Wisconsin’s Voter ID law is on hold, while it’s litigated in federal court. Judge Lynn Adelman struck down the measure in April, and his ruling is awaiting appeal.