Indefensible: Eligible Voters Stripped of Constitutional Right to Vote by Decisions of Department of Motor Vehicles

Evidence in Federal Voting Rights Trial Exposes Details of State ID Petition Denials

MADISON, Wis. — Records obtained from the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as part of the federal voting rights trial One Wisconsin Institute et. al. v Gerald Nichol et. al. reveal that eligible voters are being denied the franchise because of DMV decisions refusing to issue them voter ID cards, even when DMV has no reason to doubt their eligibility to vote. Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director, called it “indefensible” that U.S. citizens who have a fundamental right to vote are having that right stripped from them by a decision of a state DMV employee that has nothing whatsoever to do with their eligibility to participate in elections in Wisconsin.

“It is indefensible that legal voters are having their right to vote stripped away by the state Department of Motor Vehicles,” said Ross. “Voting is fundamental to our democracy. But under the law today we see legal voters in Wisconsin forced into a bureaucratic labyrinth that results in them having to spend significant time and money to try find documents to get an ID, and in some cases potentially losing the franchise because they are denied the ID card they will need to vote.”

Petitions for state voter ID cards have been denied for minor name spelling discrepancies, bureaucratic errors on birth certificates, irrelevant questions about parents’ maiden names and where voters have been unable to locate vital records because they were never created.

An analysis of records of individuals applying for a free voter ID at the state DMV found that, to date, of the 61 citizens whose ID petitions have been formally denied, 85 percent are African American or Latino. Residents of Milwaukee accounted for 57 percent of the denials and 73 percent reside in Milwaukee, Madison or Green Bay. Fully 28 percent of the citizens whose “free” ID petitions were denied were born in Illinois, most of them in Cook County, which is known for its chaotic, inhospitable, and unreliable vital records system. Another 36 percent were born in the former “Jim Crow” South – states that practiced legal segregation at the time of Brown v. Board of Education – where African Americans were historically severely underserved by public institutions and thus are less likely to have access to the types of documentation that the DMV has been demanding to issue voter ID.

Information about all 61 state ID petitions that have been denied so far is available at

The lawsuit is challenging the voter ID law and a series of other measures adopted by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican controlled legislature that were meant to and have the effect of making it more difficult to vote in Wisconsin, especially for minorities, young people, and voters who tend to support Democratic candidates. Expert testimony presented in the case has demonstrated that these laws disparately impact the populations targeted by Republicans, and that the purported justifications for these laws, including allegations about voter fraud, are unfounded.

Ross concluded, “The evidence shows that the only thing the laws passed by Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature are stopping is legal voters from having their voices heard on election day.”

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