US Election 2016: Voter ID laws threaten lifelong voters
67-year-old Leroy Switlick is angry.
He’s angry because he’s made three separate trips to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in Milwaukee to get a photo ID so he can vote in next month’s general election.
Each time he’s come away empty-handed.
Leroy has voted in every presidential election for more than 40 years, but Wisconsin’s new voter ID law means that even though he’s registered, he will not be able to cast his ballot without showing photo ID such as a driving licence or passport.
“It’s silly,” he says.
Switlick, who has been partially sighted for most of his life, never learned to drive - and so never had a driver’s license. He was not previously required to have a state-issued ID for any other purpose.
“The first question the man behind the counter asked me was ‘Can I see your photo ID?’ Now if I’m coming to get a photo ID, how can I already have a photo ID?”
Each time he visited the DMV, he took a satchel full of documents including his birth certificate.
But the DMV never actually examined his papers.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says his state’s legislation will make it “easier to vote, but hard to cheat” and that the law is justified even if only one fraudulent vote in prevented.
Mr Thomsen says he has seen no evidence that impersonation has been a problem in the state. And a researcher at Loyola Law School found only 31 cases of credible voter impersonation that would have been stopped by such laws between 2000 and 2014 across the US, out of a billion ballots cast.
The Brennan Center at New York University has been keeping track of voter ID legislation around the country. It says that despite the striking down of laws in states such as North Carolina, there are still eight states that will have strict photo ID laws for the first time in a presidential election, accounting for more than 80 electoral College votes out of 538.
“We’re not just talking about 10 people here and there”, says Adam Gitlin, counsel in the Democracy programme at the Brennan Center.
In southern Virginia, Barbara Lee echoes that analysis.
She’s spent her life as a Democratic activist, and now goes door-to-door in low income neighbourhoods registering voters.
Virginia has similar requirements to Wisconsin. It will issue a free ID for voters who can get to a local registration office, but, says Barbara, that’s not so easy when the office is only open weekdays and shuts for an hour at lunchtime:
“If this one woman works at Walmart and rides the city transit, and this one’s babysitting her children, then when she gets off work she’s coming home and it’s after six o’clock. There’s no way that babysitter can get down town, there’s no way that Walmart worker can get down town.”
Court action continues against the laws in both Virginia and Wisconsin, though it seems unlikely there will be much change before 8 November.
Bruce Spiva, a partner at Perkins Coie law firm, is involved in the litigation in both states. He says the restrictions could affect the outcome in close races such as Virginia and Wisconsin, depressing the Democratic vote.
In the case of the blind gentleman I’m surprised that non-driver IDs aren’t available or perhaps the clerk is uninformed.
Here in NY, at least in some counties DMV offices are open on Saturdays two weeks a month.
I don’t have a problem with voter ID per se but if a state is going to make it mandatory they should make it convenient to get.