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WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee's NPR is teaming up with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to answer your questions about the upcoming elections. Every month, Lake Effect's Joy Powers will connect you with the answers in a series we are calling Wisconsin 2020.We are also working with the Zeidler Group to bring your questions to life in a year-long event series._

How To Overcome Obstacles To Voting In Wisconsin

Scott Olson
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Voting laws vary from state to state, which causes lots of confusion. We go over how to overcome some obstacles you may encounter when voting in Wisconsin.

What if your ID doesn't have your current address because you don't have a current address? What if you have a felony conviction? Or what if you can’t physically get into your polling place? How can you still vote?

Voting laws change from state to state, causing lots of confusion. Karyn Rotker knows this all too well. She's a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Wisconsin, and she specializes on issues related to voter rights. Rotker explains that when it comes to voting, "the really critical issues that people have to remember is prove where you live to register and prove who you are with voter ID."

Rotker highlights several communities that commonly have issues voting and how they can register and vote using Wisconsin's resources:

Homeless/Highly Mobile

“[The Wisconsin Elections Commission] allows you to get a letter from any provider, public or private, that serves people who are homeless,” says Rocker. "They can provide a letter on their letterhead and identify you and you can use that address as your voting address."

When it comes to getting an ID to bring to the polling station, Rotker says, "to get the actual ID, [people at the DMV] do mail them. So, you need to have some kind of address. If you're staying at someone else's house and you can get verification of that, or I believe they will also mail them to shelters and so on."

College Students

“They can use ... the residence they used before they went to college — usually that will be your parents address. Or as long as you've been at college more than 10 days by election day, you can register and vote using your college address,” says Rotker. 

Once you register at your voting residence, your ID address does not need to match the address you are registered to vote. 

“For voter ID, college students can use the same things as other voters of Wisconsin driver's license, a Wisconsin State ID card,” or Rotker says, “most of the universities will issue a special voting ID to students who need it," she says.

Physical/Language Accommodations

The first thing to know when voting with accommodations is that “you're allowed to bring someone to assist you in voting,” says Rotker. “You can bring someone who can help you translate or can help you in marking the ballot." 

Even if you can't make it into the polling place due to a lack of accessibility, curbside voting is always an option. “And say that we have someone who wants to do curbside voting. The poll workers are required to come up to the car and allow you to vote from that location,” notes Rotker. 

Convicted Felons

“You cannot vote while you are in prison and you cannot vote while you are on probation, parole or extended supervision. But once you've completed your sentence — and it is called off paper — you're automatically allowed to vote in Wisconsin,” Rotker explains. 

Felons will have to register (or reregister) to vote, because a felony conviction will cause your name to be removed from the voter rolls. 

In Prison or Jail Without a Felony

This differs from voting as a convicted felon, because you actually can vote from inside a jail or prison. “You may have people who have been convicted of misdemeanors, you also may have people awaiting trial who have not yet been convicted of anything. And if you have not had your trial yet and not yet been found guilty or not pled guilty, then you are not yet convicted. So, you can ask for an absentee ballot,” says Rotker. 

If you encounter any issues, Rotker recommends going to Wisconsin Election Protection on Facebook, tweeting @EPWisco or calling 866-Our-Vote.

What do you want to know about the 2020 elections and the DNC convention? Submit your questions below.


Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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