The New Wisconsin DMV Location is a Voting Rights Issue

While this week the United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the constitutionality of our electoral maps, we can’t forget that those in power are also guilty of suppressing the right to vote. It’s another way that politicians are choosing their voters, when it ought to be the other way around.

A recently published study done in collaboration between UW Madison and the Dane County Clerk found that 11.2% of those who didn’t vote in the last election did so because of the voter ID requirement. That includes people who couldn’t get an ID in time, or thought their ID wouldn’t be valid. Extrapolating from there, voter ID suppressed over 23,000 votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties alone; the projections statewide are larger but less reliable.

Getting a Voter ID in Madison is About to Get Harder

As of August 10, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced that they’ll be moving and consolidating their Madison west side locations from Odana Road and Sheboygan Avenue to 8417 Excelsior Drive. The move is expected to happen around the beginning of December. DOT has yet to provide a public service announcement with the specifics.

Why is this a problem?

While there are other forms of state-issued photo ID that can be used for voting, most Wisconsin voters probably get theirs from the DMV, either a drivers license or other type of ID. This means the DMV now serves an important function in the democratic process.

The current locations on the west side are accessible to drivers and non-drivers alike. At Sheboygan Ave, two dozen buses pass by between 8 and 9 AM alone. Those bus routes reach everywhere from Middleton to the isthmus, the south and west transfer points, and beyond. It’s also a block from the bike trail that parallels University Ave.

The future location at 8417 Excelsior Drive is uniquely inaccessible by public transit, and isn’t located near any major bike thoroughfares either. There are only two routes that travel down that stretch of Excelsior: bus 15 runs every half hour during rush hour, and bus 68 runs once an hour all day. The 68 is the only bus that stops directly in front of 8417 Excelsior.
This means that to get to the new site via public transit in the middle of the day, here’s what you’re expected to do:

  • Get to the West Transfer Point.
  • Take bus 63, which departs once an hour.
  • Ride that bus all the way to the end, at Prairie Town Center, a strip mall out at Junction and Mineral Point.
  • Wait for the 63 bus to turn into the 68 bus, and eventually take you to the DMV.
  • Then when you leave, the 68 bus back to the West Transfer Point only comes once an hour.
  • You could easily lose half a day to (hopefully) get a card that you’ll then be able to use, on average, once or twice a year.

Aren’t we lucky to have a bus system?

We are! It enables people to live and contribute to our city without driving a car, perhaps without owning one. But this is something that has been as convenient as it could be, and now it’s going to become much harder for any non-drivers, regardless of the reason.

There are a variety of reasons someone might not drive. They may have a religious objection; they may not have the money for a car, gas, insurance, etc.; they may have impaired mobility; they may have a lost or suspended license; they may simply have a lifestyle that doesn’t require it. This location will also present difficulties for DOT staff who commute by bus, some of whom are coming from points east of Sheboygan Ave.

How did this happen?

The site selection seems to be official, but the process is completely opaque. Who made the selection? What other buildings were considered? What criteria were considered? Did DOT seek input from any city officials, or from the public? I’ve submitted an Open Records Request, and I hope to get materials that will give some view into how this decision was made.

We can all do something to help deal with the added inconvenience. Register your availability to help others get their IDs, at Call your city council representative and encourage them to direct more bus routes past the future location at 8417 Excelsior. And become informed about what other types of ID can be used, so that you can possibly save someone the trip.