Wisconsin never funded the education campaign its own voter ID law requires

When Republican-controlled states have passed voter ID requirements, they have often sought to preempt concerns from voting rights advocates by promising to do things like provide free IDs to those who don’t have them and run public education campaigns raising awareness in the electorate as to what the requirements are.

These efforts may be legally required, but they haven’t gone so well. South Carolina, for instance, recently displayed false and misleading information concerning its voter ID requirements to voters participating in its recent primary election. The state’s law allows voters who have a “reasonable impediment” to acquiring a photo ID to cast a ballot without said ID. The state’s materials “educating” the electorate about the ID law either obscure or omit this exemption.

But hey, at least they tried.

As Sarah Smith at ProPublica reported earlier today, Wisconsin hasn’t even bothered to do that much:

Scott Walker, via Gil C / Shutterstock.com

Scott Walker, via Gil C / Shutterstock.com

On April 5, when voters cast ballots in Wisconsin’s Republican and Democratic primaries, the state’s controversial voter ID bill will face its biggest test since Governor Scott Walker signed it into law in 2011. For the first time in a major election, citizens will be required to show approved forms of identification in order to vote. The law mandates that the state run a public-service campaign “in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election” to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable.

But Wisconsin has failed to appropriate funds for the public education campaign. The result is that thousands of citizens may be turned away from the polls simply because they did not understand what form of identification they needed to vote.

According to Smith, the reason for the lack of voter education stems from tension between the state’s non-partisan Government Accountability Board and the Republican-controlled state legislature. The Board is responsible for implementing the voter education campaign, but it has also been targeted by Wisconsin Republicans for outright elimination. This being the case, requests by the Board for funding for the education campaign have been ignored:

The board told [Republican State Senator Mary] Lazich that it would need $300,000 to $500,000 from the state legislature to broadcast advertisements. The legislature had twice appropriated money for public information campaigns during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, but the ads barely hit the airwaves before court injunctions delayed the law from going into effect.

According to Kevin Kennedy, the board’s director and general counsel, Lazich thanked the board for the information, but didn’t make any promises. Lazich did not respond to requests for comment from ProPublica.

If you’re going to change election laws to make it harder for people to vote, you had better at least pretend to try and educate the electorate as to what they’ll need to do in order to adapt to said changes. Wisconsin’s own voter ID law says so. As prior research has shown, voter ID laws don’t just disenfranchise those who don’t have the necessary forms of ID; they confuse and discourage voters who do have acceptable ID, keeping them from the polls even though they would otherwise be able to cast ballots. Changing laws without informing voters about the changes only contributes to that confusion.

For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like Wisconsin Republicans are worried about that.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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