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Advocates Push Early Voting, Educate About Photo ID in Wisconsin

Nicole Beilke
Early Voting Rally held at Milwaukee City Hall stressed the need to have photo ID in order to vote

Monday marked the first day of early voting in advance of Wisconsin’s Primary on February 16th. A rally was held at city hall hoping to encourage more people to recognize the power of the vote. At the same time, voting advocates across the state are concerned that thousands of people will be turned away from polling sites. Valid photo identification is now required to vote in Wisconsin.

There was a sense of urgency flowing through Milwaukee City Hall on Monday where 20 or so people gathered to encourage residents not only to get out and vote, but to do it early. 

Gregory Lewis is president and founder of Pastor’s United. It’s an organization made up of clergy who advocate for those who they say have no voice.

“We know that only about 8 percent of the folks in our community on the north side really got out and vote(ed) in the last local election, and that’s just despicable. If you got complaints, what you really need to be doing is expressing them with a ballot,” Lewis says.

Lewis warned that if you don’t vote, those elected won’t listen.

Keith Bailey is with an organization called Milwaukee Matters. He says certain groups of people here face real challenges, and the only way to press leaders to address problems, is by voting.

“We have a crisis as it relates to black male unemployment, 50 percent. We have a jobs and poverty issue that sometimes it may not show up during this election cycle. Poverty and the conditions that I see daily as a real estate person I see abstract (abject) poverty,” Bailey says.

Bailey reminds people to bring a valid photo id card when going to vote, because Wisconsin law now requires photo identification. Yet knowing the law might not be enough, according to Pastor Greg Lewis. He says convincing some people to acquire photo identification has been a challenge.

“You know to be honest with you, you know what we’re dealing with—apathy, despair. A lot of people don’t really trust the system and you know they don’t even want to connect with a system. So they don’t even want to take the time to go into the place just to make a simple request for an ID,” Lewis says.

In order to obtain a state photo ID, people need to visit a DMV office. The ID is free, and so are any background documents a person may need, such as a birth certificate.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board launched a campaign to educate voters about the process. Director Kevin Kennedy says he’s aware that thousands of people still need photo identification.

“We just know that there are groups of individuals, the elderly, poor, minority, students who are going to have a harder time being prepared, and we want to make sure that we do this sort of outreach so that they do bring the appropriate id,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy says people who cannot make it to vote in person due to illness, age and disability do not need to present photo id to receive their ballot by mail. For everyone else, groups such as the pastors’ will continue to encourage would-be voters, to take the steps necessary to make their voices heard.

One of the organizations that fought the state's photo ID law is the League of Women Voters in Wisconsin. It initially estimated that some 300,000 people who are registered to vote, might not possess the appropriate photo ID. Executive Director Andrea Kaminski says her organization has been taking a number of steps to teach people about the importance of obtaining a photo ID to use at the polls.

Andrea Kaminski of the League of Women Voters talks with WUWM's Ann-Elise Henzl

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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