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Racial disparities highlighted during first day of early voting

Posted at 6:34 PM, Oct 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 19:34:18-04

MILWAUKEE — As hundreds hit the polls for the first day of early voting in Wisconsin, it won’t be as easy for some to cast their ballot.

“Early voting provides access to voting for citizens that historically have been presented with barriers to casting a ballot,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

While early voting does present a challenge to those who can’t get to the polls on the first Tuesday in November, another barrier is having a photo ID. Voter ID laws disproportionately impact communities of color. The law was introduced in Wisconsin in 2011 and was first implemented in 2014. The results could be seen in the 2016 General Election.

The Center for American Progress shows data comparing the 2012 and 2016 elections.

In 2012, 74 percent of African Americans voted in Wisconsin. Four years later, in 2016, that number dropped to 55.1 percent.

“I’m struggling with my ID right now,” Antwon Johnson of Milwaukee said. “I’m trying to get everything together for my ID.”

On the first day of early voting, Antwon Johnson was trying to get his photo ID. It will also help him in applying for better employment, but he has his eyes on getting to the polls. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the required paperwork to get it today. But he says he will be persistent.

“It’s important,” Johnson said. “it’s the most important. That’s why, first and foremost, I’m going to vote. That’s why I’m going to get it. I’m struggling, but trying to make it work.”

“It puts a barrier on people who are low income,” Common Council President, Cavalier Johnson said. “It puts a barrier on people of color, namely African American and Latino residents in our city. It’s been a barrier for years and continues to be a barrier now.”

Tuesday, Johnson boasted about how well his district does when it comes to early voting, but he knows there is plenty of room to grow. He believes more should be done to make it easier for people to vote, especially for communities of color.

“In a democracy, you should be working to make sure everybody can effectively let their voices be heard in an election,” Johnson said. “You should be removing barriers in order to do that. That’s what democracy is about right? But, when you put things up like photo ID laws or other barriers around voting, it does the inverse. It does the exact opposite of what democracy is supposed to be.”

In Wisconsin, voters need one of the following forms of photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

The aforementioned forms of ID do not need to have your current address listed if you have moved. You will still be allowed to vote. For more information on accepted forms of identification, including student IDs and veterans IDs, please visit this website.

However, access to a photo ID has proven to disproportionately impact African Americans. The American National Elections Study says 95 percent of white people have a valid photo ID, compared to 87 percent of African Americans. By that measure, roughly 31,850 African Americans in Wisconsin do not have a valid ID. They wouldn’t be able to vote in this year’s election.

We also know African Americans face disparities in income. In Milwaukee, the median household income for African Americans is $28,928. The same American National Elections Study says 19 percent of households making under $25,000 do not have valid photo ID.

“It puts a barrier in front of people who are seniors,” Cavalier Johnson said. “It puts a barrier in front of people who are students. It puts a barrier for people who may have moved from other parts of the country to our community. For years, in Wisconsin, we had a system where someone could vouch for you and say, hey this person lives in this area or this neighborhood and they should be able to vote. That seemed to work very well.”

But there are options. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation offers free photo IDs for the purpose of voting. However, the following documents are needed for identity verification.

  • Proof of Name and Date of Birth, like a birth certificate
  • Proof of Identity, like a Social Security Card, Medicaid/Medicare Card, etc.
  • Wisconsin Residency, like a utility bill, government mail, lease, etc.
  • Proof of U.S. Citizenship, like U.S. birth certificate or citizenship paperwork
  • Social Security Number

However, there are still other ways to ensure you have a photo ID even without all of these documents.

“If a voter is struggling with getting a valid ID for voting, we strongly encourage them to contact [the Milwaukee Election Commission] or the Wisconsin Election Commission and we can walk them through the ID petition process,” Claire Woodall-Vogg, Executive Director for the Milwaukee Election Commission said. “They can still apply through the DMV even if they don’t have the documents necessary to get that ID through a petition process. They will be issued an ID for voting on Election Day.”

For more specific information on documents you will need, visit the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website. For help going through the process, contact the Milwaukee Election Commission or the Wisconsin Election Commission.

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