Voter ID Horror Stories Aren’t About Voter ID

A federal trial is underway in Madison, Wisconsin to determine the fate of the state’s voter ID law which requires voters to have a photo ID card in order to cast a ballot. The law, which is universally loathed by Democrats, is being challenged by a coalition of leftwing groups who have sought to feature the personal stories of individuals who have allegedly been unduly burdened by the requirement.

A witness in the trial is Todd Allbaugh, a one-time Republican staffer for ex-GOP state Sen. Dale Schultz. Allbaugh claims he was in the room when Republican lawmakers contemplated the voter ID law and, he claims, Republicans were only interested in suppressing the votes of minorities when they enacted the law.

Allbaugh has been featured on MSNBC with host Chris Hayes telling the story of an employee of his who was prohibited from voting in Wisconsin’s April presidential primary because he couldn’t get a Wisconsin drivers license in time. After leaving the Capitol when his boss retired, Allbaugh started a coffee shop where his hapless non-voting employee now works.

Here’s the kicker: the unnamed employee moved to Wisconsin from California and waited until the day before the election to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his California license changed to a Wisconsin license. Under law, in order to obtain a Wisconsin driver’s license an individual must present proof of U.S. citizenship and date of birth. That’s a requirement that an original copy of a birth certificate meets.

Allbaugh recounted the story on Facebook the day of the April primary:

“Yesterday, one of my employees, born in California went to get his WI ID. He was told he couldn’t use his CA ID to get a WI ID without his birth certificate which is back in CA. The result? He’s not able to vote today. Here’s a young man in his early 20’s, who is taking part and interested in voting for the first time in his life. He was excited to go to the polls. What kind of a state, a legislature, a political party is it that denies this young man his right?”

But the Wisconsin requirement for a birth certificate isn’t entirely a state requirement. Under the federal mandate of REAL ID, which was enacted in the post-9/11 environment and has been implemented under both a Republican and Democratic president, state issued identification documents such as driver’s licenses need to meet more stringent standards. Those standards were designed to keep terrorists from obtaining ID documents that could be used to carry out terrorist attacks. According to the Department of Homeland Security, Wisconsin is among those states leading the way in compliance with REAL ID requirements – requirements that include extra verification steps for citizenship/naturalization status and date of birth.

While Allbaugh’s story may grab headlines, his momentary fame is premised on a flawed argument that is less about voter ID than it is about REAL ID requirements that have been imposed on Wisconsin by the federal government.

Another tale of voter ID woe comes from Steve Pacewicz, who, according to the CapTimes, found he couldn’t obtain a driver’s license with his updated address. According to the paper:

“He said he has always updated his driver’s license with his new address every time he has moved, but had trouble doing so after moving to Racine several years ago. Eventually, he said, he gave up on trying to update his address.

“Last fall, he said, he went to a Madison DMV location in hopes of getting the free ID offered by the state for voting. He had an unexpired license with an outdated address.

“He learned, once he got there, that anyone with a valid driver’s license has to surrender his or her driving privileges in order to receive the free voter ID. He didn’t have the money to update his license, but wasn’t prepared to give up his ability to drive as he continues to search for work.”

Once again, the problem here isn’t exactly the state voter ID requirement, it is the individual who is trying to get a new license. According to the Government Accountability Board’s voter ID public awareness campaign website, state law doesn’t require voters to have a driver’s license that has their current address on it. The only requirement is that it not be expired. In fact, a license may be suspended or revoked but as long as the actual document in the hand of the driver has not expired, it is a valid ID for the purposes of voting.

Since Pacewicz’s license was unexpired, as the CapTimes story notes, he did not need a new ID for voting.

The relatively high voter turnout of the April primary saw no problems with the voter ID law, with the MacIver Institute reporting:

“The state of Wisconsin makes photo ID cards valid for voting available for free. In total, the state has issued 550,690 non-driver ID cards since the Voter ID law was passed on July 1, 2011, 440,641 of which were issued free of charge per the law.”

Voter ID opponents will need better examples to prove their case if they are going to argue that the law intentionally disenfranchises people.