Wisconsin veteran: Getting state ID took 2 years

Nov. 6, 2013
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MILWAUKEE — A U.S. Army veteran testifying in a federal trial over Wisconsinís 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 plaintiffsí 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.

ďUntil now I never took life serious,Ē he said, when asked why he wanted to vote.

He said he didnít have a driverís license, attributing that to his alcoholism, and that while he had a Social Security number he didnít have a Social Security card. He also didnít have his Illinois birth certificate and couldnít 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 driverís license. Because of his alcoholism, he didnít want to make the effort.

ďIt was easier for me to give up than keep trying,Ē 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 1Ĺ to 2 years of trying.

Wisconsin residents can get a free state ID from a Department of Motor Vehicles by presenting documents such as a certified birth certificate, passport or Social Security card. Each document must be unexpired, and the personís name must be spelled identically on each document.

Earlier witnesses have testified that the regulation was a problem, either because they lacked lack the documents or because their names were misspelled on a key document.

The plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of United Latin American Citizens, as well as the Advancement Project, a Washington-based nonprofit. They argue that minorities and the poor are less likely to have state IDs or the documents necessary to obtain them.

Critics of such Republican-backed voter ID laws say they are really meant to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to back Democrats, and that they amount to a solution in search of a problem because in-person voter fraud is extremely rare.

Lawyers defending the state law are expected to argue that it doesnít impose an undue burden on minorities, and that the state has an obligation to ensure that people who cast ballots are who they say they are.

Other witnesses expected to be call this week include two top officials with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which is tasked with enforcing the stalled law.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

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