As the Wisconsin Legislature took up a strict photo ID requirement for voting, Republicans responded to concerns that the bill was one of the most restrictive in the United States.
Most didn't dispute that fact, saying it was a necessary anti-fraud measure. We previously rated as True a claim from Milwaukee Ald. Milele Coggs that "In its current state, this bill is the most restrictive voter ID legislation in the nation."
Republicans did, however, make several changes that put in doubt whether it's still the most restrictive, or just one of the most restrictive.
But in the weeks before the state Assembly approved the amended measure May 11, at least one photo ID backer in the state Senate put Wisconsin’s status in a totally different light. (The Senate was poised to give final approval to the bill on May 19, 2011.)
State Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, answered constituent concerns with a letter that made this claim:
"Wisconsin is one of the few states in the country that do not currently require a photographic identification."
We heard from two Moulton constituents -- Gail Halmstad of Chippewa Falls and Jim Dunning of Eau Claire -- who said they received those Moulton letters between late March and mid-April. Both said they question the need for a photo ID mandate at the polls.
Others, including state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, have made similar statements.
"I think most people just want to get the issue off the table and say, yeah, we should have an ID in order to vote. Most states have an ID for voting," Darling told a WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) reporter for a May 11, 2011 story.
Darling didn’t say "photo" ID, so her statement can’t be equated with that of Moulton. But that’s what the bill requires and what she supports, so her comment may have left the impression with viewers that she meant most states have photo ID for voting.
Moulton’s statement was simple and straightforward.
So is our evaluation, since we have been down this road before.
The definitive source for up-to-date information on state-by-state requirements for voter identification is the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures’ online guide, "Voter Identification Requirements."
So is it true that Wisconsin is one of the few states that lacks a photo ID rule for voting?
Actually, it’s the opposite.
Only eight states currently request or require a photo ID to vote, according to the group.
A ninth state, Kansas, will require photo ID as of 2012, we found. (The Wisconsin law would take effect in 2012 as well, barring a court injunction.)
Another 18 states require some form of identification, but it does not have to include a picture.
That tally will move to 19 in July 2011 when Oklahoma election officials begin requesting photo ID, according to the group.
These numbers could change more in the months ahead. According to Brennan Center for Justice research, 37 states including Wisconsin are considering or have considered voter ID and/or proof of citizenship legislation in recent months.
But currently Wisconsin is in a very large group of states that do not require photo ID to vote -- not "one of the few" who do not. Most states do not ask or mandate photo ID.
Moulton’s office told us they inadvertently erred in the constituent letter and have omitted the claim in letters that have gone out recently. Elise Nelson, an aide to Moulton, gave us a copy of the revised letter she said went out on May 10, and it does not include the earlier claim.
But it does not correct it either, so recipients may still have the impression the earlier claim is fact.
Nelson said she did not know where Moulton’s office came up with the original claim.
The bottom line?
As Wisconsin was on the verge of enacting a photo ID requirement for voting, Moulton said the state was one of only a few without one. But as senators prepared to cast their final vote, most states still do not require photo ID to vote.
Moulton’s claim to constituents, as his office notes, was well off target.
We rate it False.