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Judge orders state to probe report that DMV gave false information on voter ID

Mark Sommerhauser

The Wisconsin State Journal

A DMV spokeswoman said Friday a review was underway.

Judge James Peterson issued the order Friday, shortly after a report earlier in the week by The Nation raised questions about whether Gov. Scott Walker's administration is complying with instructions Peterson gave earlier this year, as part of a court challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law.

The Nation report focused on audio recordings of exchanges with employees at a Madison DMV office in which they appear to rebuff efforts by a Madison man, Zack Moore, to obtain an ID to vote in November.

Peterson, who is presiding over a legal challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law, ruled in July that the state must promptly provide voter ID credentials, valid in the November election, to people who request them — even if they lack some of the underlying documents needed to obtain an ID.

In his order Friday, Peterson, a federal judge in Wisconsin's Western District, said the Nation's reporting raises the question of whether the DMV is following his instructions.

"These reports, if true, demonstrate that the state is not in compliance with this court's injunction order" from July, Peterson wrote.

Peterson's order instructs the state to "investigate these allegations and provide a report to the court by Oct. 7," which would include "any corrective action to be taken."

Comments by DMV staffers in the audio recording, taken by the group VoteRiders, also contradict what state Attorney General Brad Schimel told Peterson in a report to the court on Sept. 22 — the same day the recording was made, according to VoteRiders spokeswoman Molly McGrath.

"DMV is carefully administering the process to ensure that anyone who is eligible for the IDPP will have a valid ID for the November general election," Schimel wrote.

"IDPP" refers to a petition process created by the state for those like Moore who lack both IDs and the documents needed to get an ID. Peterson found the process to be unconstitutional, leading to the order he issued in July.

It is "very unusual" for a judge to issue an unprompted order of this type, said election law expert Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine. But Hasen noted that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals told the Western District Court in a previous decision to monitor the state's compliance with its July ruling.

Walker's office did not respond Friday to requests for comment on Peterson's order.

State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Patty Mayers, in a statement, called actions cited in the Nation report "concerning" and "not consistent with DMV protocol." Mayers said the DMV already has begun an investigation and "intends to investigate and report to the court as ordered."

"DMV remains committed to working with all eligible voters to ensure they receive free identification, as required for voting," Mayers said.

Moore moved to Wisconsin from the Chicago area last year, McGrath said. Though he still has an Illinois ID, Moore lacks the type of ID that meets Wisconsin's voter ID requirement — which is among the strictest of any state. Moore also lacks access to his Illinois birth certificate, one of the underlying documents that can be used to obtain a Wisconsin ID, McGrath said.

The audio recording, a copy of which was provided to the Wisconsin State Journal by VoteRiders, captures Moore explaining his situation to DMV officials.

DMV employees can be heard telling Moore if he enters the petition process, it's possible he might not get voting credentials in time for the election.

McGrath said information collected by VoteRiders suggests DMV misinformation about the process is not limited to one office in Madison. She said VoteRiders representatives traveled to 10 other DMVs across the state and were given contradicting — and at times, inaccurate — information.

The court challenge over which Peterson presides was brought by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute. Another legal challenge to the law, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, is pending in federal court in Wisconsin's Eastern District.

-- Copyright (c) 2016, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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