The Dane County Board will vote tonight on a resolution calling for Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature to suspend the state’s photo ID voting law until changes are made to ensure access to the ballot box, according to a press release.
The move follows a county-funded study which found that 11.2 percent of registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties – nearly 17,000 citizens –did not participate in the 2016 presidential election because of the ID requirements.
“One of the most important jobs of county government is to oversee the election process,” said County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan. “This study raises some serious concerns about Wisconsin’s voter ID law that need to be addressed.”
Wisconsin’s voter ID law was approved in 2011 but blocked for years by litigation. Last year’s presidential election was the highest-turnout election since it went into effect.
Prior to the election, Dane County contracted with UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer to conduct a mail and telephone survey of registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee Counties who cast a ballot in 2012 but didn’t in 2016.
The survey found widespread confusion over the state’s photo ID law, which is considered one of the most restrictive in the nation. It estimated the law may have held down turnout in Dane and Milwaukee counties anywhere from 1.2 to 2.2 percent.
While the number of voters impacted was not enough to change the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Wisconsin, Mayer said the survey pointed to some disturbing trends. Some respondents who stayed home over ID concerns had legitimate identification but were confused by conflicting reports on what was required.
“This study provides better data than previous efforts to measure the effects of ID laws,” said Mayer. “By asking nonvoters their reasons for not voting and about what forms of ID they actually possess, we get a better understanding of how voter ID laws affect individuals.”
The study also found the burdens of voter ID fell disproportionately on low-income and minority populations. Where 8.3 percent of white registrants who didn’t vote said they were deterred by the law, some 27.5 percent of registered African American voters said they did not vote in 2016 because they thought they lacked the proper ID.
“The main conclusion is that thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands, of otherwise eligible people were deterred from voting by the ID law,” said Mayer. “An eligible voter who cannot vote because of the ID law is disenfranchised and that in itself is a serious harm to the integrity to the electoral process.”
The County Board resolution says at a minimum the law should include the addition of an affidavit process that allows voters to cast a ballot even if they lack a correct ID. It also calls for a simplification of acceptable ID’s in line with what is done in other states.
“Part of a functioning democracy is to ensure all eligible voters have access to the ballot box and don’t stay home because of confusing laws,” said County Board Supervisor Robin Schmidt. “The Legislature needs to take action to promote election integrity, transparency and democracy.”
In light of the study results, Schmidt is proposing to add voter education funds to the County Clerk’s office as part of the 2018 County Budget.