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Photo ID law changes rules for Wisconsin voters

Residents who need photo IDs to vote may receive the cards free at the driver licensing office, 2100 O'Neil Road in Hudson's St. Croix Business Park. Photo by Judy wiff

At first glance the state's new voter photo ID law seems at most a minor inconvenience to Wisconsin voters, most of whom we presume can just use their driver's license.

And for those who are already registered, vote at the polls and have a license, there will be little change other than being required to show the card each time they vote.

But for others -- such as students or others who don't drive and those who vote absentee -- there will be obstacles. The photo ID is not generally required of nursing home residents or the homebound who have already been voting absentee.

"It's going to be confusing and that's the way it is. Change is always confusing," said St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell.

The law passed this year requires voters, starting in 2012, to present a photo ID at the polls. Acceptable IDs include a Wisconsin driver's license, a U.S. passport, an ID card issued by a federally recognized Indian tribe or an appropriate identification card issued by a Wisconsin-accredited university or college.

The voting check-in process may take a little longer because on each election day, election inspectors will have to:

  • Verify that the photo ID is unexpired or, if expired, meets expiration specifications;
  • Verify that the photo ID "reasonably resembles" the voter; and
  • Verify the name conforms to the name on the voter list.

    DMV-issued ID cards

    Probably the most common alternative to a driver's license -- or at least the one that's gotten the most press -- is a photo ID card issued at driver's a license testing station.

    Those are free and available now. If you need one, officials suggest you apply soon to avoid last-minute rushes.

    "You can apply anytime. The forms are there. The IDs are free," said Kristina Boardman, director of the Bureau of Field Services for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Division of Motor Vehicles. Boardman supervises DMV service centers statewide, including the one in Hudson.

    At the Hudson DMV service center, the application forms, which are on the same sheet used by persons applying for a driver's license, are placed prominently on a countertop inside the service center.

    Locally, quite a few people have already gotten their voter photo IDs from the DMV.

    Boardman said that since the photo ID law went into effect in July, 229 people have received photo ID cards from the Hudson center. Of those, 123 (53.71 percent) were issued free of charge because the applicants certified they needed the IDs to vote.

    The photo IDs are valid for eight years and may be renewed, either by mail or online, for another eight years.

    There is no charge for the DMV IDs if the person requesting the card will be at least 18 at the time of the next election, does not have a driver's license and is a U.S. citizen, said Boardman. Persons who already have a driver's license can't get a photo ID too.

    Those requesting a free photo ID must fill out Section A and Section B of the application form and check a box certifying that they are eligible for the voter ID. They must also provide a certified birth certificate or other proof of name and date of birth, proof of identity (usually a document with a signature or photo), proof of Wisconsin residency, proof of U.S. citizenship and Social Security number.

    There is no income standard for the free card. But, said Boardman, her department has been issuing photo IDs for other purposes all along and the free IDs are intended only for voting.

    She said workers don't question applicants who certify that they want the ID just for voting: "We're not researching that."

    Boardman said parents often get DMV photo IDs for their underage children if they are going out of town or flying. There will continue to be a $28 fee for that type of ID card.

    DMV service centers accept only cash or checks, and the IDs are mailed to applicants 18 and older.

    College IDs

    Photo IDs from accredited universities and colleges can be used for voting if they contain the student's signature and an expiration date not more than two years from the time the card was issued. IDs issued by UW-River Falls don't meet those requirements.

    To accommodate students who need them, UW-RF will be making voter ID cards available to those who request them rather than retooling its student ID system, said Gregg Heinselman, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.

    "The cost to redistribute 7,000 IDs is a little cost prohibitive for us," said Heinselman. He expects only a small number of students will ask for the voter ID.

    Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board requires that university IDs have a two-year expiration date. Heinselman said UW-RF issues IDs with the expectation that they will last for the student's academic career -- four, five or six years.

    "So we'd have to reissue IDs every two years, and we're not going to do that," he said.

    Instead, Heinselman said, the university will buy equipment to make the voter cards. That equipment includes devices to scan signatures and the backup documents that prove a student is old enough and meets other requirements to vote.

    Last week Heinselman attended the fall meeting of the UW schools' chief student affairs officers. The main topics were, predictably, the new concealed weapons law and the voter ID law.

    While some other colleges will be adopting the same procedure as UW-RF, some have "OneCard" systems -- bank-issued cards that serve as debit cards, student IDs, meal cards and library cards and contain all the information mandated by the new voter ID law.

    Once UW-RF is ready to start issuing the cards, it will send out an email blast to all students and advertise the cards in the student newspaper, said Heinselman.

    He said UW-RF officials haven't decided what they will call the new cards to differentiate them from student IDs. They may be called "voter badges."

    While the major sticking points have been worked out, "We're still playing with the terminology we're going to use for the darned things," said Heinselman.

    The GAB has determined that student IDs from two-year campuses and the state's technical colleges can't be used to vote.

    Homebound voters

    There are some exceptions to the photo ID requirement, said Boardman. The most common is for people who live in nursing homes or other residential facilities or are homebound and have already voted absentee.

    Those rules and the ballot certification envelopes are being fine-tuned, said Campbell. "There are drafts out there right now."

    An absentee elector who is indefinitely confined because of age, physical illness, or infirmity, or who is disabled for an indefinite period, and has previously applied to vote absentee is not required to present a photo ID.

    Those voters may instead submit a statement signed by the same individuals, usually special voting deputies, who witness voting of the ballot. That statement must include the name and address of the voter and verify that those are correct.

    That provision applies to persons confined to their own homes and those living in nursing homes, retirement homes, community-based residential facilities, residential care apartment complexes or adult family homes.

    Absentee voters

    The photo ID law is less restrictive for those who vote absentee.

    Mail-in absentee voters must provide a copy of their photo ID the first time they request a ballot to vote absentee. Once mail-in absentee voters provide a photo ID, they aren't generally required to provide one again.

    "(GAB officials) are saying that's the only copy he ever has to provide to the clerk even if that ID expires," said County Clerk Campbell. She said a person voting absentee would have to provide a new photo ID only if he or she changed his or her name or address.

    Municipal clerks are not required to track expiration dates for photo IDs submitted by mail-in absentee voters.

    Campbell said the absentee voter registration system is being changed to include a check box indicating that the voter ID has been provided.

    The GAB is promising training for municipal clerks and election officials. The board is also looking for clerks willing to be trained to train other clerks.

    "It would be nice if it's this year and not crammed into January," said Campbell. Even though Wisconsin has moved its presidential primary from February to April, there could easily be primaries for other offices, she said.

    For more information about the photo ID requirement, go to the Government Accountability Board's website at For information about getting a DMV photo ID, go the DOT website:

  • Judy Wiff

    Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

    (715) 426-1049