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DOT workers told not to offer free IDs unless asked

State Department of Transportation employees have been instructed not to offer free photo identification cards to people unless they specifically asked about them first.

State Department of Transportation employees have been instructed not to offer free photo identification cards to people unless they specifically asked about them first.

"While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it," reads an internal DOT memo, which was emailed to employees on July 1 and released to reporters Wednesday.

Opponents of Wisconsin's new law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls said the email urged employees to disenfranchise voters by telling them not to help eligible people obtain free IDs.

The voter ID law passed the GOP-controlled Legislature and was signed by Gov. Scott Walker in May. It requires people to show certain photo identification, such as driver's licenses or passports, before being able to vote starting next year. Republicans say the measure will combat voter fraud while Democrats said it creates barriers for potential voters.

"Helping people obtain a free ID card to vote should be no different than any other service the Department of Transportation offers as an agent of the people of this state," state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, wrote Wednesday in a letter to DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb. "This is a job that has been assigned to your department by the Legislature and one we expect you to do without prejudice."

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The provision for a free ID was included to address concerns that the $28 cost of obtaining a photo ID was effectively an illegal poll tax. The cost is waived if specific requirements are met, and if the applicant checks a certain box on the application. DOT estimates about 59 percent of some 18,300 IDs issued or renewed since July were free.

In the memo dated July 1, the day the department began issuing free IDs, transportation official Steve Krieser instructed DMV workers not to offer the free ID to anyone except those who ask for one. Krieser was then an office chief, but has since been appointed the DOT's executive assistant.

A Department of Motor Vehicles official told the State Journal in July that "we don't want to be responsible for asking every single person" whether the ID card is needed to vote.

On Wednesday, Krieser said the department was not "trying to trick people."

"We're implementing the law as its written," Krieser said. "There's no political motivation on the part of the DMV to deny anyone who's eligible for a free ID or the ability to get one."

Krieser said DMV employees are "clearly aware this is a controversial law," and added that temporary signs about free IDs were being placed in offices and permanent signs will be in place soon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(c) 2011 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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