Dennis’ Voter ID Story

Written by: VoteRiders

Marine veteran Dennis Hatten was initially denied an ID to vote by the Milwaukee DMV because his birth certificate had a mistake. It took 6 months of persistence with VoteRiders’ Anita Johnson before Dennis was finally able to vote.

Anita met Dennis in August 2015 at the Vet’s Place, a Milwaukee shelter for homeless veterans. He had moved to Wisconsin from Illinois; first to care for his ailing mother, then his father, then his grandmother. He was in treatment at the nearby VA hospital for mental illness and drug addiction. Neither his IL driver’s license nor his VA card were accepted for voting in WI (the law has since been amended so that VA cards are accepted as voter ID).

The Wisconsin DMV rejected Dennis’ application for a free ID because he didn’t have a birth certificate. It took months of effort by Anita, a volunteer lawyer and Dennis to track down his birth records from Arkansas. It turned out that the French Creole midwife who attended Dennis’ birth had written his name as D’Nette on his birth certificate instead of Dennis. The DMV said Dennis would need to change his name through the Social Security Administration to get an ID for voting. Dennis is not alone in this experience – Many African Americans born in the Jim Crow South face challenges getting their birth certificates, as births at home or in black hospitals commonly went unrecorded, or have errors in their documentation.

“I thought, is this sort of a poll tax type of thing?” said Dennis. “Are they trying to stop us from voting? But I tried to look past that and went ahead and did what I had to do.”

After a lengthy investigation, Anita discovered that Dennis had used the name D’Nette on his first application for a Social Security card, which the DMV finally accepted as proof of identity. Dennis received his photo ID to vote in time for the April 2016 Wisconsin primary election.

Read more about Dennis’ story in this article from ThinkProgress reporter Alice Ollstein, and in “Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law Caused Major Problems at the Polls Last Night” by Ari Berman of The Nation.