With all of her necessary documentation, University of Wisconsin-Madison student Brooke Evans arrived at her polling place on Nov. 8, 2016, for the presidential election. For her, voting that day meant not only casting a ballot for the first female presidential candidate with a real shot of winning, but having a voice in a society in which homeless people such as herself were marginalized. The law requires Wisconsin residents to present certain forms of photo identification to vote but does not require that the ID have the voter’s current address. Such voters must provide proof of their current address — and that is where Evans ran into trouble. She eventually was able to cast a ballot using a campus address she herself had advocated for to help homeless students. Not only did Evans, as a college student, face increased obstacles under the voter ID law, her homelessness was another barrier — one that almost prevented her from exercising a fundamental right of citizenship. “I was just really surprised at the hassle I was given,” Evans said.
Over the past 15 years, voting has become increasingly difficult for people such as Evans. A recent PRRI/The Atlantic 2018 Voter Engagement Survey found that 5 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed said they or someone in their household was told they lacked the proper documentation to vote. (The Joyce Foundation is a funder of the survey and also is a funder of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s coverage of democracy issues.)
A 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office report concluded that voter ID laws may reduce voter turnout. The report examined 10 studies, as well as turnout in Kansas and Tennessee compared to other states without voter ID laws. The GAO estimated turnout was cut by up to 2.2 percentage points in Kansas and 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee in the 2008 and 2012 elections — with larger decreases seen among specific groups, including those ages 18 to 23 and African-Americans.