WDC Testimony in Opposition to Senate Bill 533

Testimony before the Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government

January 26, 2016

(WDC testimony opposing SB533 which seeks to regulate the production and use of photo ID cards by local units of government.)


I’m Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, now in its third decade as a good-government watchdog and an advocate for democracy, where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s vote is counted.

We oppose Senate Bill 533 for the following reasons:

First, it is an assault on local, democratic control, which traditional Republicans actually used to favor but evidently not anymore in Wisconsin.

We’ve seen this legislature restricting the zoning authority of local governments, and limiting the funding referendums that local school districts can offer, and prohibiting the local regulation of companies like Uber.

Now you want to prohibit towns and counties from issuing a photo ID for any resident. That’s a huge overreach.

These infringements on local control are infringements on the rights of people to self-govern. Local units of government are closest to the people, and their ability to govern themselves should not be interfered with, unless they are violating constitutional rights or laws.

Second, this appears to be a gratuitous swipe at the city and county of Milwaukee, which late last year voted to approved the spending of $150,000 on a joint task force to provide local IDs. While it may seem expedient for some politicians to go after Milwaukee, is it really the state legislature’s job to tell the elected officials of the city and county of Milwaukee what they can and cannot do?

Third, and very important, this bill could make it harder for people to register to vote. Currently, according to Wisconsin statute, any “identification card or license issued by a Wisconsin governmental body or unit” can be used as proof of residency when you register to vote, though not when you cast your ballot. This bill would invalidate local IDs when you try to register.

And that’s the intention of the bill. It specifically says that even city and village IDs cannot be used “to establish proof of residency” for voting, and it applies that ban also for people who are even disabled or in nursing homes.

Why make it harder for people to register to vote?

Finally, the sponsors of the Milwaukee plan for local IDs note that the IDs would be especially helpful to victims of domestic abuse, undocumented immigrants, seniors, former prisoners, members of the transgender community, and homeless people. A local ID could provide these vulnerable members of our society with some dignity and with some increased ability to go about their lives.

The State Legislature should not be interfering with local communities that are simply trying to help out the most vulnerable among them.

For these reasons, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign opposes SB 533. We urge you to vote against it.