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In Wisconsin, ID law proved insurmountable for many voters

MILWAUKEE — State Sen. Mary Lazich was adamant: The bill Republicans were about to push through the Wisconsin state Senate, requiring that voters present identification at the polls, would do no harm.

“Not a single voter in this state will be disenfranchised by the ID law,” Lazich promised.

Five years later, in the first presidential election held under the new law, Gladys Harris proved her wrong.

By one estimate, 300,000 eligible voters in the state lacked valid photo IDs heading into the election; it is unknown how many people did not vote because they didn’t have proper identification. But it is not hard to find the dying woman whose license had expired or the recent graduate whose student ID was deficient — or Harris, who at 66 made her way to her polling place despite chronic lung disease and a torn ligament in her knee.

She had lost her driver’s license just before Election Day. Aware of the new law, she brought her Social Security and Medicare cards as well as a county-issued bus pass that displayed her photo.

Not good enough. She was turned away.

In the end, Wisconsin’s 10 Electoral College votes went to Republican Donald Trump, who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by roughly 22,000 votes.

Under the state’s law, voters must present a driver’s license, state ID, passport, military ID, naturalization papers or tribal ID to vote. A student ID is acceptable only if it has a signature and a two-year expiration date. Those who do not have their ID can cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if they return with the proper ID within a few days of the election.

Supporters have long argued such restrictions are needed to prevent voter fraud, while critics have decried the laws as undermining democracy and leading to the disenfranchisement of elderly and minority voters such as Harris.

“They prevented us from voting,” Harris said, simply.

When Alvin Mueller retired from his job as a maintenance worker, his wife Margie, 85, quit driving and let her license expire in 2010. The couple never had trouble voting in Plymouth, a small city about an hour’s drive north of Milwaukee where they’ve lived since they married 65 years ago.

But they hit a snag during early voting in November because Margie Mueller couldn’t cast a ballot with her expired license. The staff at the city clerk’s office said if she wanted to vote, she would need to get a new ID at a DMV office about 15 miles away in Sheboygan, the county seat.