In WI Voter Id Trial, Witness Says There Is Strategy To Bar Seniors, People Of Color From Voting

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  

November 11, 2013                                        

Contact: Jennifer Farmer, Advancement Project

Email: jfarmer@advancementproject.org

Phone: 202.487.0967

 

In Wisconsin Voter Id Trial, Witnesses Such As 93-Year Old Lorene Hutchins Says Seniors, People Of Color May Be Barred From Voting If Voter Id Law Goes Into Effect

Former Poll Worker Details Painstaking Lengths, Multi-Year Process Her Daughter Endured to Obtain Voter ID

Washington– The first trial challenging a state’s restrictive photo ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, since the June 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, proceeds into the second week. The federal lawsuit is brought by the national multi-racial civil rights organization Advancement Project and co-counsel Arnold & Porter. The ACLU is also challenging the law in federal court.

During the trial, Advancement Project and Arnold & Porter will prove:

  • The Wisconsin voter ID law intentionally excludes from voting hundreds of thousands of eligible Wisconsin voters who cannot show a state-issued ID at the polls;
  • Black and Latino voters disproportionately lack the required identification needed under the law to vote;
  • Obtaining an ID can be difficult, costly or impossible for many voters of color; and
  • There is no justification for the law, as Wisconsin has virtually no in-person voter fraud.

Among the witnesses who took the stand last week to detail the law’s discriminatory impact was 93-year old Lorene Hutchins, who testified from her wheelchair: “I feel there is a strategy to keep minorities and older people from voting. Most of us who migrated to Northern states do not have birth certificates, a prerequisite for obtaining the photo ID required to vote. I’ve been voting since the 1940s when I voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It would be devastating to lose the right to vote now, after all these years.”

Ms. Hutchins was born at home in Lee County, Mississippi. At the time of her birth, hospitals in Mississippi did not accept African-American patients, and she did not receive a birth certificate. Although her daughter Katherine Clark went through a multi-year process and spent more than $2,080 to obtain her own birth certificate, as well as one for her mother, Ms. Hutchins believes many seniors and people of color may lose the right to vote because they won’t be able to overcome the barriers to obtaining the underlying documents required to vote.

“If it had not been for my daughter Katherine who had the time and money to fight to get me a birth certificate, I would have been barred from voting,” Ms. Hutchins said.

In addition to Ms. Hutchins, who once worked as a poll worker, other Advancement Project/Arnold & Porter witnesses include:

  • Rickey Davis, a veteran whose only form of identification is a veteran’s card, which will not be accepted if the photo ID law goes into effect. Davis was born in Memphis, Tennessee and doesn't have a birth certificate, which is required to obtain the photo ID. 
  • Rosie Thompson, who was born in Mississippi by a midwife, doesn't have a birth certificate and therefore cannot obtain a state-issued voter ID.  Although she attempted to receive a copy of her birth certificate from Mississippi, she’s been unsuccessful.  The 79-year old will be unable to vote if the law goes into effect. 
  • Melvin Robertson, who was born in Milwaukee, has no birth certificate and no way of obtaining one. The 84-year old will be unable to vote if the law goes into effect.
  • Alice Weddle, who was born in Mississippi by a midwife, has no birth certificate. The 59 year-old will be unable to vote if the law goes into effect. 

“As the leading democracy in the world, elected officials should work to ensure elections are free, fair and accessible to all people,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda Hair. “The states that are passing restrictions on voting are not trying to stop fraud; they’re trying to stop certain communities, namely seniors, students and people of color, from voting."

The anti-voting measure in Wisconsin is part of a broader attack on the right to vote. In the two years leading up to the 2012 election we witnessed the greatest assault on voting rights since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with a wave of regressive policies passed or proposed in a majority of states. These measures included restrictive voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, voter roll purges, “show me your papers” proof-of-citizenship practices, and voter challenges at the polls. The unprecedented flood of tactics disproportionately affects voters of color, who are less likely to have state-issued photo ID, more likely to use early voting, more likely to be naturalized citizens, and more likely to be targeted for polling place intimidation. 

“Having watched her family brave angry mobs while trying to vote in Mississippi in the 1920s, Ms. Hutchins now faces a more subtle, yet no less harmful, barrier to the ballot box,” said Advancement Project Staff Attorney Leigh Chapman.

To view photos of the witnesses or for more information, contact Jennifer Farmer, at jfarmer@advancementproject.org, or 202.487.0967.

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Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.