Election Law Changes Require Preparation, Patience

By State Senator Julie Lassa


Recent changes in Wisconsin elections laws mean that your voting experience on April 5 may be quite different than in the past.  The following advice from the Government Accountability Board will help you understand your rights and requirements on Election Day.

To begin with, you must bring an acceptable photo ID with you to the polls in order to vote.  Acceptable IDs include a Wisconsin driver’s license, or a state-issued ID card, which you can get for free at any Department of Motor Vehicles office.  Other valid IDs include a Veterans Administration health ID card, a U.S. passport, or a tribal ID card.

Some college, university or technical college student ID cards will also be accepted as long as they contain the date of issuance, the student’s signature, and an expiration date no later than two years after date of issuance.  Student IDs must be accompanied by a separate document from the school that proves enrollment.  Students should contact their school's administration about how to get a student ID that is voter ID compliant.  The entire list of valid IDs can be seen at the GAB’s voter ID website, bringit.wisconsin.gov.

Your photo ID doesn’t have to have your current address on it; your ID is intended to prove your identity, not your address.  You do have to prove your address when you register to vote, however, so if you want to register at the polls on Election Day you will need to bring proof of residence, such as a paystub or a utility bill with your current address.

If you don’t have a valid photo ID for voting, you can still get one at the DMV before Election Day.  You will need to bring documentation of your date of birth and identity, as well as your address and U.S. citizenship.  For most people, a certified birth certificate, a Social Security card and a utility bill or cell phone bill will be adequate.  Other documents that can satisfy the requirements can be seen at the bringit.wisconsin.gov website.  On your application form, make sure to check the “ID for Free” box.  You won’t get an ID card right away, but the receipt you will receive will be valid for voting for 45 days. If you don’t have a birth certificate, the DMV has a petition process that can verify some of your information, such as your birth record, if your documents aren’t readily available. 

If you don’t have a valid ID with you when you get to your polling place, you can still cast a provisional ballot and then bring a valid ID back to prove your identity, either by 8 p.m. at the polling place on Election Day or by 4 p.m. at your municipal clerk’s office until the Friday after the election.

Other changes will affect the voting process as well.  The cutoff time for absentee voting at your municipal clerk’s office is now 5 p.m. or the close of business (whichever is later) on the Friday before the election.  Absentee voting is no longer allowed on weekends or on the Monday before the election.  If you’re mailing in an absentee ballot, it must be postmarked by Election Day and received by your municipal clerk no later than 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election.

The website myvote.wi.gov is a useful tool to let you look up your registration status, find your polling place, learn what will be on your ballot, and many helpful things besides.

The recent elections changes may lead to some delays and longer lines at the polls on Election Day.  Remember that as long as you’re in line at 8 p.m. when the polls close, you must be allowed to vote.   A little more patience and preparation may be necessary to vote this election, but it is a small price to pay to exercise your most important right as a citizen.