A federal judge on Friday ordered Wisconsin officials to investigate whether DMV workers are giving prospective voters correct information about a system meant to provide IDs to those who might have trouble getting them. If they aren’t, it could jeopardize the state’s voter ID law. U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson wrote in a two-page order that state officials must investigate whether DMV employees are instructing customers properly on the “ID Petition Process” — a system by which Wisconsinites who lack required documents, such as birth certificates, can get alternate papers that would let them vote. That is pivotal, because a federal appeals court has previously said its conclusion that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is constitutional depends on officials adequately implementing and informing the public about the ID Petition Process. Peterson had previously ordered reforms to the process so that it could function as a “safety net” for those who might be left unable to cast a ballot by Wisconsin’s strict ID requirement.
A spokesman for the Wisconsin Justice Department, which has defended the voter ID law, said the agency would comply with Peterson’s order. The judge gave state officials until Oct. 7 to report back to the court.
Voting rights advocates and state lawyers have sparred for years over whether Wisconsin’s voter ID law is constitutional, but until Peterson’s order Friday, it had seemed as if the landscape for the November election was largely set. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit last month ruled that voters could be required to present an ID, and they could not present an affidavit attesting to their identity instead. The appeals court said, though, its ruling rested on an assurance by state lawyers that voting credentials would be “available to all qualified persons who seek them” and that the state would not refuse to initiate the ID Petition Process. The appeals court left it to Peterson to monitor compliance.