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Getting A Wisconsin State ID To Vote: A First-Hand Account

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Joy Powers
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The Milwaukee-Downtown DMV is located in the Milwaukee State Office Building.

Like a lot of Milwaukeeans, I take the bus to work. But today my usual commute is taking a detour. Today, I'm getting my first Wisconsin ID.

Although I’m originally from Wisconsin, I don’t drive, so I’ve never had a license. While I’ve had other forms of IDs over the years, I didn’t have the necessary ID this year to vote in the state of Wisconsin. So, I boarded my usual bus, with an unusual destination for me: Milwaukee’s Downtown Division of Motor Vehicles.

All of the DMVs in the Milwaukee area open after 8 a.m. and close before 5 p.m. The majority of them are only open on weekdays, but there are some exceptions.

"We have two locations in Milwaukee — Milwaukee Southwest (which is actually Greendale), Milwaukee Northwest, Madison East, and then we have Appleton, Wausau, Eau Claire, and La Crosse. They all offer Saturday morning hours on a weekly basis," says Kristina Boardman, the administrator of the Wisconsin DMV.

"We have two locations in Milwaukee — Milwaukee Southwest (which is actually Greendale), Milwaukee Northwest, Madison East, and then we have Appleton, Wausau, Eau Claire, and La Crosse. They all offer Saturday morning hours on a weekly basis."

Boardman says that if I were in my hometown, Lake Geneva, the nearest DMV in Elkhorn wouldn’t be open on the weekend. For a lot of working people in my hometown, that could mean either taking off work or driving nearly two hours roundtrip to the nearest DMV with weekend hours.

If you’re like me and you’re getting your first Wisconsin ID, you’ll want a few documents that prove different things about your identity, including:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Address in Wisconsin
  • Legal presence in the U.S.
  • Social Security number

"For a lot of people there’s some work on the back end that they’ve gotta do — or should we say, preparatory work to get all your documents together," says Reid Magney, the public information officer at the Wisconsin Election Commission.

"For a lot of people there's some work on the back end that they've gotta do - or should we say, preparatory work to get all your documents together."

For me, that meant taking the train to Chicago to get a copy of my birth certificate. Each state has different policies regarding birth certificates and other vital documents. In Illinois, I had to pay $10 for a certified copy and I needed a valid, government-issued ID. To get my Social Security card, I needed documents that proved my citizenship, age, and identity — like a driver's license, a passport or a state ID card.

So, in order to get the documentation I needed to get a state ID card, it seemed like I already needed to have that ID card.

This part of the process was relatively easy for me, because when I got all of these documents I still had a valid passport. But I wondered what would've happened if I'd waited until my passport expired and I didn't have these vital documents?

Magney recommends bringing whatever you have to the DMV, even if it's not listed as one of the required documents to prove your identity.

"Even if it's an old family Bible with, you know, a birth record in it or a baptism record in a family Bible. Bring whatever you have, they will take a look at it, try to figure out what they need to do to get you an ID so you can vote."

"Even if it’s an old family Bible with, you know, a birth record in it or a baptism record in a family Bible. Bring whatever you have, they will take a look at it, try to figure out what they need to do to get you an ID so you can vote," Magney explains.

So, let’s say you don’t have a birth certificate, Social Security card or other documents. You can still get an ID through the ID petition process.

"If you come in and fill out the regular ID application, which is the MV3004 and then we have a separate petition application. Mainly, it's asking for birth certificate information because we will go ahead and do that research on your behalf if your birth certificate is unavailable. So, we will work with you to track down the documentation as needed to get some sort of electronic verification," says Boardman.

She continues, "You would not need to necessarily have your Social Security card, but we would need your number so that we can verify that electronically. Wisconsin residency — most people have something on that, but if you don't, we will send you a letter. We just want to make sure that you can get government correspondence or you have some sort of utility bill in your name."

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Credit Joy Powers
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Because I had all of my information with me, I left with a receipt in hand, which I was able to use to vote at my local polling place. If you’re in the petitioning process, you will still receive a document you can vote with — just not immediately. If you need to get an ID to vote this week, you can still go to the DMV and they will work with you.

Boardman explains, "Even if it takes us a while to track down some of that information we provide a receipt during that interim that is good for the purposes of voting as well, and especially at this point when we're so close to the election, we're sending those overnight mail so that people get them right away."

When I started researching this process online, I found some conflicting information. Some websites that pop up in a Google search lay out a lot of prices for an ID, but you can ignore that. If you’re getting an ID for voting purposes, you don’t need to pay anything.

It should also be noted, you can use a variety of other IDs to vote, including:

  • Driver's license
  • Military ID card
  • U.S. passport
  • Certificate of naturalization (provided it was issued in the last 2 years)
  • Driver's license receipt
  • Veteran Affairs ID card
  • Photo ID issued by a Wisconsin accredited university or college

There are a lot of stipulations on some of those photo IDs and there are some people who don't need to provide a photo ID. Here's a full list of the kinds of IDs that qualify. If you don’t know if your ID qualifies, you can still head to the polls and cast a vote.

"Even if you were to go to vote, you realize that you don't have identification that's valid for voting, you can go ahead and do a provisional ballot then come into the DMV. We will collect your information, we'll overnight a receipt, and you can take that receipt back to city hall to make sure that your vote is counted," says Boardman.

One other important piece of information if you’re going to vote on Election Day: the polls close at 8 p.m.

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.