With the presidential primary election only a month away, local voter organization representatives and Dane County residents kicked off Dane County Voter ID Month Wednesday with a discussion on the importance of having valid voter identification.
Molly McGrath, national campaign coordinator for VoteRiders and member of Dane County Voter ID Coalition, said it is important to ensure every eligible voter has a valid voter ID. Around 300,000 registered voters in the state do not have the ID they need to vote, McGrath said.
Madison city clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said 98 registered voters at the February spring primary presented unacceptable ID or did not have any ID at all. She said 300 volunteers at the city clerk’s office are working as voter education ambassadors to help people obtain the correct documentation for voting. She said it is important that everyone who can vote does because their votes count.
McGrath said volunteers from the voter ID coalition and other voter organizations also help citizens learn about correct ID and what to do if they do not have it.
“The more accessible the information is, the less intimidating [voting] is,” McGrath said.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said it was undemocratic that people are unable to vote because they do not have the correct form of identification. This specifically affects veterans because their IDs may have expired, he said. It is each person’s responsibility to educate others about what they can do to obtain IDs before they go to vote, Soglin said.
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President of Dane County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Greg Jones said minority groups are also affected by strict voter ID requirements, which he called an “unfair burden” on them. He said voter ID requirements are not a partisan issue, but an American issue because they prevent many Americans from voting.
“Voter ID requirement is an unnecessary, unsupportive and politically motivated qualification to vote,” Jones said.
A bill that would put voter registration online has recently come under fire as well. Associated Students of Madison and Democrat legislators argue the bill would eliminate the role special registration deputies play in helping people register to vote, which would negatively impact voter turnout. Some believe voter registration drives that these deputies organize make it easier for people to register in comparison to voters registering themselves.
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University of Wisconsin experts have criticized the state’s lack of initiatives for voter education as well. According to a Marquette Law School poll, less than 10 percent of registered voters did not think they needed an ID to vote and 6 percent were unsure.
Jonny Vannucci, member of Voter ID Coalition and ASM, said voter ID requirements impact students the most. He said the UW administration has not made adequate voter education outreach efforts.
Vannucci said ASM has initiated voter drives and events on campus to register and educate student voters in collaboration with university dining halls and unions. Common Cause Wisconsin has also created an information sheet that explains what students need to know about voter ID.
“This is a really crucial issue for students,” Vannucci said.
Voter drives are held Monday through Thursday across campus, Vannucci said.
McGrath said Voter ID Coalition will hold voter education events at all Madison public libraries starting March 15.