A U.S. Army veteran testifying in a federal trial over Wisconsin’s voter-ID law said Wednesday it took him almost two years to acquire a state ID. The testimony from Carl Ellis, a Milwaukee man who struggled with homelessness and alcoholism, was intended to strengthen plaintiffs’ arguments that the law disproportionately hurts minorities and the poor. The Republican-backed law, which requires voters to show a photo ID at the polls, has been suspended pending legal challenges. Ellis, 54, said he joined the Army at age 18 and was honorably discharged two years later. He said he struggled with severe depression and trust issues for years, and also battled alcoholism that made it hard to hold a job or pay the rent. As part of his recent recovery he wanted to get more involved in elections, he said. “Until now I never took life serious,” he said, when asked why he wanted to vote.
He said he didn’t have a driver’s license, attributing that to his alcoholism, and that while he had a Social Security number he didn’t have a Social Security card. He also didn’t have his Illinois birth certificate and couldn’t afford to pay $15 for a replacement.
Ellis said that when he tried to get a state ID from a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Milwaukee, he hoped his military ID and Social Security number would suffice. Instead, he was told he needed to get a birth certificate or driver’s license. Because of his alcoholism, he didn’t want to make the effort.
“It was easier for me to give up than keep trying,” he said.
Ellis eventually got help from a homeless shelter that helps people acquire birth certificates for the purposes of getting a state ID. He said he got his ID about 90 days ago, after 1½ to 2 years of trying.