In preparation for upcoming elections, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Dane County Board Chair Scott McDonell announced steps today that the county will take to protect voter rights and aid citizens who would be otherwise disenfranchised by a new voter identification law passed by state leaders.
Under the state’s voter ID law, Department of Transportation identification is available free of charge to individuals who need an official ID to vote. However, an individual must present a valid birth certificate to obtain that ID – a document some residents do not have access to or cannot afford to obtain.
Left unaddressed, this obstacle could disenfranchise voters, and is the driving force behind a proposal supported by Parisi and McDonell authorizing the county to provide eligible voters in need with free birth certificates that are maintained by Dane County.
Parisi, who served as Dane County Clerk for 8 years, voiced concerns for voters’ rights under the state law. “The state’s Voter ID law continues to have flaws that could lead to the disenfranchisement of voters – particularly minorities, those who are homeless, the elderly, or students. The county’s effort is critical to protecting the integrity of our elections and preserving our citizens’ right to vote.”
The proposal is similar to a program currently in place in Milwaukee County. Individuals seeking a free birth certificate must state in writing that the birth certificate is being obtained for the purpose of acquiring a driver’s license or official ID card to vote. In addition, individuals must attest that they have not previously received a state issued ID. County officials would work to develop a similar form and guidelines to implement the practice here.
Chair McDonell, author of the proposal, stressed the need for the county to assist its voters. “The United States Constitution clearly protects every citizen’s right to vote without spending any money,” said McDonell. “But to get an ID, you need a $20 birth certificate. Under the state law, that fee amounts to a poll tax for some of our citizens. In order to uphold a citizen’s right to vote under our Constitution, it’s clear that someone has to take responsibility to making that cost disappear for voters, and the County is willing to step in to do that.”
Dane County Clerk Karen Peters noted that approximately 10% of voters in the City of Madison did not have an appropriate ID to vote in the July 2011 special election. “Many voters may not yet be aware that they need a valid photo ID in order to vote. Outreach to voters will be key leading up to, and after our elections. For a majority of county voters, this requirement won’t be a problem – our focus is on populations most likely to be disenfranchised by the state’s voter ID law.”
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School estimates that 11% of Wisconsin voters lack acceptable photo ID. Additionally, the Brennan Center notes that 23% of people over the age of 65 do not have photo ID acceptable for voting, and that the burdens of addressing voter ID requirements fall disproportionately on minority and low-income voters.
The county’s proposal would go into effect following final passage by the Dane County Board and approval by the County Executive.
# # #