John Wolfe and Rita Platt
(photo and video of partial interview by Art Juchno)
Now that photo ID’s are required for voting in Wisconsin, Jennifer “Rita” Platt and John Wolfe drove 45 minutes from Osceola to the nearest Dept. of Motor Vehicles office in Hudson, only to be turned away. Governor Walker and state Republicans recently passed the “Voter Photo ID Law”, or Act 23, which has many Wisconsinites scrambling. Rita and John brought social security cards, current pay stubs, and driver’s licenses from Iowa, but it wasn’t enough. They need to pay for certified birth certificates, and wait for them to arrive in the mail, in order to secure a free Wisconsin ID card issued for voting. To complicate matters further for the couple, the computers at the DMV were down and unable to process their request.
Here’s their story.
Rita: On November 23 (2011), John and I drove down the day before Thanksgiving, because we were both lucky enough to have the day off … hoping to get our Wisconsin driver’s licenses. It is a long haul down to the DMV, and it takes some time at the DMV, and it is a long haul back up, so we wanted to do it on a day when we didn’t have work.
So, as soon as we got there another customer told us that the computers were down and that he’d been there all morning. We must’ve gotten there sometime around 10 or 11:00 am, and he said he’d been there since it opened [8:00]. And so we thought (Hugh…rolled eyes), “What a bummer! The one day we could come here the computers are down and we can’t get our licenses.” Then, the gals behind the counter encouraged us to get our paperwork filled out, in the hopes that when we were finished the computers would be up and running.
So, we filled out the paperwork, and the gal asked for my identification. I gave her my expired Iowa state driver’s license. [Rita and John moved to WI 18 months ago] And I gave her my pay stub for my school district in St. Croix Falls, where I teach. She said these didn’t count as proof of identification and that I needed either a certified birth certificate or a passport, neither of which I had. Then, I asked her if I could, at least, get a voter ID, since I’d like to vote in the next election. She said, “No.” I couldn’t get that either because I’d need either a certified birth certificate or a valid passport to get a voter I.D., as well.
Finally, I told her that I’d previously been a Wisconsin resident (from the mid ‘80’s – mid 90’s) and that I’d had a driver’s license at that time. Then, she said, “Oh, if you’ve already had a Wisconsin driver’s license, then you can get a new one and you don’t need the other proof.” So, she got on the computer…which, I still don’t understand because she said it was down, but she was able to find some information on the computer about me.…She was able to see my old license on the screen but for some reason she couldn’t see enough information for it to count. So, at that point I knew that there was no chance to get a license or voter I.D.
I was super, super frustrated at that point. And, um, and you know, I’d watched John struggle to get his, too, and also be denied. So, we left, and that was the end of the story for that day.
John: … fair enough, computers go down…but I went in there with a current Iowa driver’s license, social security card, proof of residency here – a bank statement, and a pay stub. They said, “No, that doesn’t count as proof of your identity.” They also said that I had no proof that I was aUnited States citizen, because all a social security card says is that at some point I was allowed to work here. So, you know, it is hard in that situation to not want to argue with the women that are working there. But at the same time you realize that they are just employees.
What is your plan now? Do you still plan on getting your licenses or IDs?
Rita: Well, I’m really lucky because I know that I will get my driver’s license before the next election. I have a computer, so I went on to find out how to get a certified birth certificate. I’m from California, so I have to fill out some online paperwork and pay $26 and wait for it to come. Then, the next time I go back it will have to be a day off work. So, that will be lost income, and then to spend the gas down and back the second time, with gas being close to $4 a gallon. Altogether, that is a ton of money. There are a couple of other DMV centers that are 30 minutes away, but they are only open 1-2 afternoons per month and only open during my working hours.
John: I was born in Arlington,Virginia and it’s going to take somewhere between $20 and $30 to order a certified birth certificate. But I’m one of the lucky ones. I can take the time off work. I can have some flex time, and I have a pretty good salary. I have a reliable car. I can do all of this, and I will. But what worries me is that this is a law that will cause many people not to vote. I value democracy, and I want my fellow citizens to vote.
[According to UW Milwaukee, School of Continuing Education, Employment & Training Institute: “Minorities and poor populations are the most likely to have drivers license problems. Less than half (47 percent) of Milwaukee County African American adults and 43 percent of Hispanic adults have a valid drivers license ...The situation for young adults ages 18-24 is even worse -- with only 26 percent of African Americans and 34 percent of Hispanics in Milwaukee County with a valid license compared to 71 percent of young white adults in the Balance of State…. An estimated 23 percent of persons aged 65 and over do not have a Wisconsin drivers license or a photo ID. The population of elderly persons 65 and older without a driver’s license or a state photo ID totals 177,399 and of these 70 percent are women.”]
What has been your experience voting in other states?
Rita: I was living in Wisconsin for my first election, at 18, and I’ve voted in every election. I love adventure and travel, so I’ve lived in a lot of different states. I’ve voted in 5 different states and overseas. This is the first I’ve ever had any trouble. I’ve lived in rural Eskimo villages on the Bering Sea coast, and I’ve voted overseas in Thailand. No problem. Now, here I am in Wisconsin raising my kids in theMidwest, with values that are so close to my own, and this is the first time I’ve had any trouble trying to vote. I’ve never missed a single election, and I certainly didn’t want to miss the coming election (special election for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker).
It is sad to say, and I’m certainly not a conspiracy theorist, in general, but it does seem a bit suspicious to me that this Voter ID law came up now, when our state is very divided and there is a lot anger. Here we have this law that has the potential to disenfranchise an incredible number of voters. You look at the statistics and this will affect a huge number of African American and Latino voters. It seems politically motivated.
John: I’ve lived in Iowa, Illinois, Arizona, Japan, and Switzerland. Any other place I’ve been, any other state, any other country, it was fairly simple to vote with some documentation, and now, suddenly, I was stopped cold.
There seems to be a double standard. You have these legislators who claim that we need this law to protect valid democracy. And yet depriving someone by setting up conditions that make it difficult to vote, for someone who has a right to vote, means a vote has not been counted. And that is a blow at the democratic process just as much as permitting someone to vote who shouldn’t be allowed to. Yet, I don’t see the Republican legislators wringing their hands and panicking over the fact that 100 or 1000 people who should be voting are not going to vote. You know, where is their concern for the validity for the voting process then?
I called the Hudson DMV for comment. A woman named Joyce verified that the computers were down on the day that John and Rita attempted to obtain I.D.’s. She acknowledged that, “Every once in a while that happens. Then, we usually tell them to come back another day or call back later in the day to see if they are back up.” I asked if this problem was something unique to the Hudson DMV or if this was a statewide occurrence. The response, “It happens throughout the state.”
In 2008, the GAB reported 6 cases alleging voter fraud. Yet, hearing the extraordinary efforts that one couple is taking to cast 2 votes, one wonders how many voters the law, itself, will disenfranchise? Voters must now navigate through technical difficulties, new requirements, and financial obligations. As evidenced with John and Rita, potential voters without IDs need to be finanicially secure enough to have internet research options, gas money for trips to the DMV, time off work, and hard cash to pay for certified birth certificates. Thousands of Wisconsinites share their predicament. John and Rita say, “We are the lucky ones.” How many will not be so lucky?
This story has just gone national. Watch MSNBC.