State Sen. Jon Erpenbach

Federal Court Recognizes Photo ID Problems

Decision notes it is too difficult for some classes of people to obtain photo ID.

By - Apr 15th, 2016 03:23 pm
Voting Line

Voting Line

The decision by the US Appeals Court to send a recent voter ID case back to the Federal District Court (lower court) acknowledges that for some, obtaining an ID to vote is so burdensome that they may not be able to vote in violation of the state and federal law. The Appeals Court directed the lower court to find a way to allow some voters to vote without a photo ID because they cannot receive one the way the law currently stands.

This is not a surprise to those of us that did not support passage of this proposal. Voting is a right for every eligible person in Wisconsin and it is simply not the job of any political party to place barriers in front of those that want to vote. The illusion that voter fraud is a reality has been shattered many times. Attorney Generals, Judges and District Attorneys have found no voter fraud. It is this simple, voting is just not a high benefit crime for criminals and the outlier in our 5 million person state who votes more than once is found out and prosecuted like the case against republican Robert Monroe.

To sum up the decision, while the court said it is not an undue burden for most people to obtain a valid photo ID to vote, it is too difficult for some people. Some people can even be put into classes, or groups of individuals who cannot obtain a valid ID that qualifies under the Wisconsin law. While three groups are a part of this action by the court, some may say there are other groups that have exceptional difficulty obtaining a valid ID to vote. This ruling opens the door.

Homeless and those that move frequently for a variety of reasons often have no valid ID because they live on the streets, in shelters or on a friends couch. Being transient does not make an individual ineligible to vote. In Wisconsin, the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased every year since 2008 with the numbers reaching at least 25,000 in Wisconsin. In this decision the court acknowledged that for some groups of individuals who want to vote obtaining a valid photo ID is an exceptional challenge. My hope is that through this decision and what happens next in the lower court there will be a clear path for the right to vote for all.

The absence of Legislative remedy is not a reason for the court to be blind to the realized and actual shortcomings of the law. The courts job under the Constitution in the balance of the powers doctrine is to interpret the law. The Republican Legislature passed this law and said over and over “not one voter would be displaced by this law.” It is the job of the courts to make sure that is a reality.

For more information on this recent court decision or voter ID laws in general please contact my office at or call 888-549-0027.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, is a member of the Wisconsin state Senate.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

4 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Federal Court Recognizes Photo ID Problems”

  1. mbradleyc says:

    I guess it comes down to some people are just too overwhelmed to function in society, but they still have a vote. There should be a level of identification such that if you can make it to the polling place you can leave your mark.

    It doesn’t really matter anyway. Politicians are all the same. Whoever, whatever.

  2. QX4guy says:

    I like using incentives to influence effort and activity. What if the State of Wisconsin were to issue a lottery ticket to each person who votes, two tickets for those 65 and older, and award three tickets for a first time voter? Do you think that would entice some people who don’t have any photo ID to figure out how to get one?

  3. Peter Gordy says:

    I am functional at age 69, with some minor disabilities. I have two university degrees and an uncompleted PhD dissertation. Nevertheless, getting a Wisconsin ID card after returning to Milwaukee after 37 years away proved to be a daunting task. I am retired and have ample daytime hours to devote to tasks such as getting a Wisconsin ID card I applied for the card because I cannot presently drive and lack a driver’s license, and my U..S.passport, is becoming
    worn with too much use as an ID card.

    It took the better part of 3 hours to get an ID card on a summer day long before election day, not counting the round trip on public transportation.

    After emptying my pockets to go through the metal detector, I had to ask the officer where I could apply for the card, since it was not immediately clear which office was processing the cards. Once in the proper place there were two different lines, the distinguishing differences not identified (other than a “Line Up Here” sign. It turned out that, after waiting to get to the front of one slow-moving line, that I had chosen the wrong one and had to start over in the other queue. Once at the head of this second line, I turned in the application form and showed evidence of Wisconsin (my recently-signed apartment lease), my passport, and an ID card from the state from which I had moved. Following this, I waited 20 minutes to be photographed. Subsequently, I was to wait to see a staff member to check over the materials I had brought. Since there were insufficient chairs for the many people waiting, I had to stand for at least 20 minutes. When I finally saw the staffer, she noted that my Massachusetts ID had expired two weeks before and could not be used. My other forms of identifications were acceptable, but the staffer had to consult with her superior to see whether I could continue with my application when one of my forms of identification was invalid. Finally, I got my ID card, with a particularly ugly photo that showed me some 30 pounds heavier than my factual weight.

    As it was, I was well-equipped to deal with this enervating procedure: I had ample time, had many decades of filling out forms and dealing with bureaucracy, and I had a copy of my recently-signed lease. But think of a homeless person, a member of the working poor, someone with poor English language skills, or an unskilled worker working two jobs to make ends meet has to go through. Would any of these individuals (a) have the free time on a weekday/working day to go downtown to apply for the ID card and/or (b) be able to find out where to go to get the card in the first place (I had access to a computer and experience working with one, so that I could find one of the few places to apply–the State Office Building downtown, but what about one of those aforementioned individuals?). One would need to be incredibly plucky and blessed with large reserves of energy and ingenuity to get a card under these circumstances–qualities that are not that common, even among the affluent.

    I have no complaint with the employees at the State Office Building; they were doing their jobs according to a set formula they had to use, and the resources of staff and space were severely limited. My beef is with our elected Republican officials. My experience seems to confirm the assertion that the Wisconsin ID law was written in such a way as to make it difficult to impossible for low income people, especially non-Caucasian ones, that is, people who tend to vote for Democratic candidates, to vote at all. What gerrymandering left unfinished for Republican pols, the Wisconsin ID law will complete. I doubt that the courts and Legislature will find an effective remedy before November, even in the unlikely case that they all have the will to do so.

  4. Paul M says:

    The point made by Peter is an excellent one. To many of us, dealing with the bureaucracy of state/local government is annoying but something that we can manage. We can take the time away from work or rearrange our schedules to make the trip. We can read and understand the fine print so that we have the documentation we need and have the stability in our lives to acquire such documents (like paying for and receiving a copy of your birth certificate from your home state, something I had to do). We can struggle through the interactions with a clerk and assert ourselves. But it’s not that easy for everyone, especially people who are used to getting pushed around or minimized by institutions.

    It’s easy to say, “Well, if you really wanted to, you’d find a way.” There shouldn’t be that many barriers. The whole idea should be encouraging people to vote by making it as easy as possible without risking fraud, which is very uncommon anyway. This ID law goes too far in the other direction, not to mention the fact that they failed to spend properly on the education campaign.

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