Today has National Voter Registration Day—a good time to remind everyone register to vote so that all eligible voters can make their voices heard on Election Day (which, by the way, is Tuesday, November 6). While Wisconsin allows same-day voter registration, save yourself the time and the hassle of doing it all on Election Day and register now.
You can register to vote online at My Vote up to 20 days before Election Day (para Mi Voto en español, haga clic aquí), by mail up to 20 days before Election Day, or in person at your municipal clerk’s office until the Friday before Election Day. I’ll explain how to register online at My Vote, but first let me explain who is eligible to register to vote in Wisconsin.
Eligibility to Vote
You are eligible to vote in Wisconsin if:
- you are a United States citizen, and
- you are 18 years old by Election Day, and
- you have lived for at least 10 consecutive days in the election district or ward in which you want to vote, and
- you are not in prison on a felony conviction or on parole, probation, or extended supervision at the time of the election (also called “on paper).
If you are a student at one of Wisconsin’s colleges or universities and are originally from another state, you can still vote in Wisconsin (but you cannot, of course, vote in both your home state and Wisconsin). And if you’re a Wisconsin resident but at a Wisconsin college or university away from your hometown, you can vote where your college or university is.
Getting Ready to Register Online
Once you have determined you are eligible to vote in Wisconsin, you will need to register. If you have moved since the last time you voted, you will want to make sure you update your registration.
You can register online at My Vote if: (1) you are already 18 years old; (2) you have an unexpired Wisconsin driver’s license or Wisconsin state identification card; and (3) your name, address, and date of birth on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) match the name, address, and date of birth you are using to register to vote. Let’s talk about each of these in turn.
First, to register online, you need to already be 18 years old. Those who will be 18 years old on or by Election Day can vote, but they will have to register through the hard copy paper process or in person on Election Day.
Second, to register online, you need to have you have an unexpired Wisconsin driver’s license or Wisconsin state identification card. If you do not, you can start the registration process online, but you will need to print the form and mail or deliver the form and your proof of residence to your municipal clerk’s office. (I’ll explain proof of residence shortly.)
Third, to register online, your name, address, and date of birth on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) must match the name, address, and date of birth you are using to register to vote. If you have moved since the last election, make sure that you have changed your address with the DMV. You can do that online and without cost at the DMV website here. (There’s a fee if you want to request a new physical license or identification card showing your new address.) Once you have changed your address on file at the DMV, you can continue with online voter registration at My Vote.
If you have a valid Wisconsin driver’s license or state identification card, but just not with you when you are trying to register, you can look up the license or identification card number online, also on the DMV website, but here. If you prefer, you can call the DMV during business hours at 608-266-2261, then select Option 4, and then Option 4 again. Once you have or know your license or identification card number, you can continue with online voter registration at My Vote.
If your name has changed and you have not yet updated your license or identification card to reflect your new name, you can still register and even vote under your previous name, provided you have proof of residence with your previous name and current address.
Registering Online at My Vote
Once you have your license or identification card and have updated your name, address, and date of birth, you can go to myvote.wi.gov and click on “Register to Vote.” The site will prompt you to enter your date of birth and require you to hit the green “Search” button. If you have already registered, the site will show the address on file and give you an option to update your name and address.
If you are not already registered to vote, the site will say: “You are not registered to vote.” Click the red “Register to Vote” button and follow the online instructions to get registered.
The first screen asks yes/no questions that you must answer to verify you are eligible to vote in Wisconsin. You must answer all of the questions on this page. Some of the yes/no questions may, depending on your answer, show a field that will require you to add more information. For example, one question is: “Do you have a WI driver license or a WI state identification card?” Answering “yes” here pops up a field where you need to enter the license or identification card number and expiration date, if any. (If you’ve never been issued a Wisconsin driver’s license or state identification card, you would provide the last four digits of your social security number.)
The next screen prompts you to enter your name. You’ll want to enter your name exactly as it appears on your license or identification card. The site will compare your name as entered with your name on file with the DMV. These names must match exactly.
The third screen asks for your address. This must be the address where you actually live (not where, say, you send your mail, if that address is different). Three things to remember here. First, you need to have lived at this address for at least 10 consecutive days in order to vote in that district or ward. Second, the address on this screen must match the address on file at the DMV. It does not have to match the address listed on your physical license or identification card. Third, if you were registered to vote at a previous address (whether in Wisconsin or in some other state), you should check the box next to “I have a prior address” and list as much of the prior address as you can remember.
The final screen asks you to review and certify your registration. If you need to edit anything you entered, click the “Edit” button next to the field that needs to be changed. When everything is good to go, select the “I certify that the above information is true and correct” checkbox and click “Submit.” It is a felony to lie about any of the information you enter on the online registration system.
After your online registration has been accepted, the site creates a “Certificate of Voter Registration” for you that contains your polling place and other information like your ward or district number. You can print this document or email it to yourself. And, congratulate yourself on completing your registration. You’re ready to vote!
Mail-in or In-person Registration
If you are unable to use the online voter registration system at My Vote, you can register by mail up to 20 days before Election Day, in person at the municipal clerk’s office until the Friday before Election Day, or in person on Election Day.
To register or update your registration, you will need to prove where you live (called proof of residence). Your proof of residence must include two to three pieces of information: (1) your current and complete name, (2) your current and complete address, and, depending on the type of proof, (3) a visible account or document number. Your proof of residence does not have to contain your picture.
There are many kinds of identification or documents that serve as acceptable proof of residence. Provided that it has your complete name and address (that is, the address in the election district or ward in which you want to vote), acceptable forms of proof of residence are:
- an unexpired Wisconsin driver’s license that has your complete name and current address; or
- any other official identification card issued by a Wisconsin governmental body or unit (like a DNR-issued fishing license or a conceal carry license); or
- any identification card issued by your employer and bearing your photo and current your address, but not a business card); or
- a real estate tax bill or receipt for either 2017 or 2018; or
- a university, college or technical school identification card that has your photo (but it does not need to have your current address) and a fee receipt (that is, a tuition payment record, which does have an address) dated no earlier than February 6, 2018; or a university, college or technical school identification card that has your photo (but it does not need to have your current address) and a certified campus housing list (polling places serving large student populations will likely have a certified campus housing list); or
- a gas, electric, internet, cable (including satellite), water, or telephone (including cellular) service bill dated no earlier than August 6, 2018, that has your name on it; or
- a bank statement; or
- a paycheck or pay stub; or
- a check or other official correspondence issued by a unit of government (like Medicare or Badgercare notices and explanation of benefits, Wisconsin motor vehicle registrations, tax refunds, public library correspondence, court notices, or police reports); or
- a residential lease that is effective on November 6, 2018.*
Any one of these documents shows that you live in the election district or ward where you plan to vote. If you don’t have a hard copy of any of these documents, you can pull them up on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop and show them to the clerk or election official who is registering you.
Registering to vote require you to prove where you live, which does not require identification with a photo; voting requires you to prove who you are, which does.
Identifying Yourself to Vote
Whether you have already registered or whether you register on Election Day, when you go to case your ballot, you will have to show one form of photo identification. Importantly, the name on your photo identification need not exactly match your full name (but must conform to it). Thus, if your full name is Robert and you show a photo identification card that lists your name as Bob or Rob, that identification is acceptable. Further, the address on your photo identification need not be your current one. So, for example, if you’re a Wisconsin student from Oshkosh who is attending school in Milwaukee, your photo identification can have your Oshkosh address.
The following photo IDs are acceptable if they are current or expired after November 8, 2016:
- a Wisconsin Department of Transportation-issued driver’s license, even if your driving privileges are suspended or revoked; or
- a Wisconsin Department of Transportation-issued identification card; or
- a military ID card issued by a U.S. uniformed service; or
- a U.S. passport; or
- a tribal ID card from a federally recognized tribe in Wisconsin (unexpired or expired); or
- a veteran’s photo identification card issued by Veteran Affairs (unexpired or has no expiration date).
The following photo IDs are acceptable only if they are current:
- a certificate of naturalization that was issued no earlier than two years before November 6, 2018; or
- a driving receipt issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (valid for 45 days); or
- an identification card receipt issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (valid for 45 days); or
- a photo identification card from a Wisconsin accredited university or college that contains your name, your photo, your signature, the date the card was issued, and an expiration date no later than two years after the date of issuance. If you bring this form of identification, you will also need to bring one of the following to prove your enrollment: an enrollment verification letter, a class schedule, a tuition fee receipt, or a certified campus housing list. Polling places that serve large student populations will likely have a certified campus housing list.
Photo identification cards from the State of Wisconsin are free. To obtain a Wisconsin-issued photo identification card, you have to go to the DMV to apply. That process is described on the DMV website here. For helpful resources on getting a state-issued photo identification card, contact VoteRiders. They can even help drive you to the DMV.
At Marquette University, students can obtain a photo voter identification at no cost at Union Station in the Alumni Memorial Union. How do to that—along with other information on voting—is described on the Marquette University website here.
Other useful information can be found on the websites of My Vote, the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, the Milwaukee Public Library, the Wisconsin Election Commission, and the League of Women Voters’ of Milwaukee County.
The right to vote is a crucial right, and anyone who is eligible to vote should do so. As we say in our house, you can’t complain about the outcome if you didn’t vote. If you’re in the law school between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Wednesday, September 26; Tuesday, October 2; or Thursday, October 4, stop by the voter registration table in the forum.
*Two other forms of proof of residency would be a contract or intake document prepared by a residential care facility that says that the registrant currently lives in the facility or an affidavit on public or private social service agency letterhead, identifying a homeless voter and describing that person’s residence for voting purposes.