Pay to vote in Wisconsin

Starting next year, people who vote in Wisconsin will have to show an ID to prove they are who they say they are. Under the legislation, the Department of Transportation is supposed to give out free photo IDs to people who, for example, don’t have driver’s licenses, the most common form of photo ID.

But, the Department of Transportation in Wisconsin has told employees not to give out the free IDs unless people specifically ask that the fee be waived. If you were to, say, ask “for a photo ID so I can vote,” you’re charged $28 because you didn’t use the magic words.

In effect, that would mean they’re being required to pay $28 to vote.

Today, a mail room employee in the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services was fired because he sent an e-mail to his colleagues imploring them to tell everyone they know how to get a free ID, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Do you know someone who votes that does not have a State ID that meets requirements to vote? Tell them they can go to the DMV/DOT and get a free ID card. However they must ask for the free ID. a memo was sent out by the 3rd in command of the DMV/DOT. The memo specifically told the employees at the DMV/DOT not to inform individuals that the ID’s are free. So if the individuals seeking to get the free ID does not ask for a free ID, they will have to pay for it!!


Chris Larsen told his story this morning on a Madison radio station (hear interview here).

“They asked me why I sent it?” Larsen told the radio station. “I said, ‘because I want them to be informed,’ and they said, ‘that’s unacceptable.'”

Why would the Department of Transportation do such a thing? Because that’s what the law says, though it’s had little attention until now. Here’s how it reads:

The bill also permits an elector who is eligible to obtain a Wisconsin identification card to obtain the card from DOT free of charge, if the elector specifically requests not to be charged.

A UW-Milwaukee 2005 study found that minorities disproportionately comprise the number of voters without licenses. Only 26 percent of African-Americans and 34 percent of Hispanics have a valid Wisconsin driver’s license.

The League of Women Voters is trying to raise money to sue over the law.

In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a voter ID bill earlier this year.

  • This is why I doubt the good intentions of Voter ID bills.

  • Kassie

    And it is tricky for voting because a valid driver’s license is not necessarily valid for voting, at least under the proposed MN law, which I assume is nearly identical to the WI law. So the number of African American’s listed above that have a valid DL is low, but the number who may be able to vote with it could be lower. The reasoning is that it has to have the correct address of where you are officially living on the day of the election. So, if you changed apartment units or moved the day before, you would have a legal license for driving, but not for voting. Or if you are a student and it has your parents’ address on it, not your frat house address, it is not valid for voting.

  • matt

    I am committed to not voting for people who make it hard to vote. Thank you to Gov Dayton for his veto.

  • Jim Shapiro

    It goes without saying that the actions of the Wisc DOT are absurd and bordering on the unconstitutional/illegal.

    Now please explain to me why such low percentages of blacks and Hispanics have a valid driver’s license.

  • Bea

    To Jim, the answer lies in the disproportionate number of people of color living in poverty or low-income situations, and the more frequent relocations that are very often part of the experience. To issue a driver’s license the state wants to know your current place of residence. It has less to do with actual driving qualifications and everything to do with home/life circumstances.

  • ed of golden valley

    This is a poll tax, that is illegal. The US Justice Department should bring the law suit.

  • Bonnie

    This is an issue I would go to the front for. As I look back on my life, I have voted in every election possible but for one…I was running late and they locked the door just as I was running up the walk…it was an off season school board/local thing but as a woman I have pledged to my fore sisters/mothers that I would never miss a vote. That said, there were many elections along the way where I was in transit, when I needed a neighbor to vouch for me, or when I vouched for a neighbor. Voter fraud is unproven. Minnesota should never change. Wisconsin is in trouble, and hopefully they will recover. Thank you Matt, I agree.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bea – Thanks for the information regarding the lower percentage of blacks and Hispanics in Wisc. with driver’s licenses because of residency and income disadvantages.

    In California, the similar incidence of high numbers of unlicensed Hispanic drivers is accounted for by the large number of undocumented aliens, who understandably prefer to minimize their contact with the authorities. Might that be the case in Wisconsin as well?

    That said, as Bonnie stated, voter fraud is unproven, in spite of the xenophobic claims of republicans who traditionally attempt to minimize voter turnout.

  • Heather

    Jim, illegal immigration sounds like a red herring. Those folks are not eligible voters, and if you follow your own logic, they would probably not be trying to vote in any case — contact with authorities. Bea is right on the money with her economic argument (having a car is expensive; getting a license costs money). Also, in areas with decent public transportation systems, there are plenty of people who don’t have licenses to drive b/c they don’t drive, and don’t need to drive.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Heather – ” illegal immigration sounds like a red herring.” Regarding the voting issue, you’re absolutely right.

    As you accurately state, in areas with decent public transportation, driving – and thus licenses – is not a given. Perhaps in Wisc and Minnesota. Ever been to southern California?

    I think we’re probably on the same page regarding voting rights, economic disparity and immigration.

    I asked the question not as a devil’s advocate but as a current resident of a border state where, while undocumented immigration is in fact a red herring regarding voting rights, it is a very real issue regarding licensing and uninsured drivers.

  • Erica

    Wow. That is completely WRONG.