Republicans in Wisconsin had pledged that no eligible voter would be disenfranchised when they passed a strict voter ID law in 2011. After it was used for the first time last year in a presidential election, a group of AP reporters sought to put that promise to the test.
Weeks of research and source work led them to a retired Milwaukee resident who had voted for years in her neighborhood and brought to the polls her Social Security card, Medicare card and county-issued bus pass with photo ID. It led them to the Navy veteran whose Illinois driver's license was good enough to board a plane, open a checking account and purchase cold medicine. And to the 85-year-old man who had voted in the same small town for years with his wife, who had recently given up driving – and her license. And to the recent college graduate who went to the polls on Election Day and brought with her three forms of identification – her student ID, copies of her lease and utility bill, and her ID from her home state of Ohio.
In the end, all were turned away or had to cast provisional ballots that were never counted.
For exposing the practical effects of the ID law on Wisconsin citizens, the team of Cassidy (state government team), Moreno (Milwaukee correspondent) and Antlfinger (Milwaukee video journalist) wins this week's Best of the States award.
Overall turnout in Wisconsin was far lower than during the last presidential election in 2012, including 41,000 fewer ballots cast in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee. No one can say with certainty whether the newly enacted voter ID law was the reason for the low turnout or whether it played a role in tipping the election to Donald Trump, who won Wisconsin by just 22,000 votes. Yet the would-be Wisconsin voters felt they should have been allowed to vote or had their ballot counted: Said Sean Reynolds, the Navy veteran: "Coming home and being denied the right to vote because I didn't have a specific driver's license is very frustrating."
Republicans defend the law, including a state lawmaker who told AP it’s common sense that voters should have to show certain ID.
Republicans continue to defend the law, including a state lawmaker who went on camera with Antlfinger and said it’s common sense that voters should have to show a certain type of ID. Wisconsin is among more than a dozen states that have passed strict ID laws since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats and voting rights activists have said those laws target minorities, the poor and the elderly, suppressing their turnout. People like Gladys Harris, the Milwaukee retiree. She told AP she believes the law was tailored to keep people like her from voting: “It was unfair, and I think it was cruel," she said. The story won front-page play in several Wisconsin newspapers, ran online in the state’s largest paper and received more than 3,500 screen views.
For questioning the promises of Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers and finding real people to illustrate the effects of the state’s voter ID law, Cassidy, Moreno and Antlfinger win this week’s $300 Best of the States prize.