Dennis’ Voter ID Story

Marine veteran Dennis Hatten was initially denied an ID to vote by the Wisconsin DMV office in Milwaukee because his birth certificate had a mistake. It took six months of persistence by VoteRiders’ Wisconsin Statewide Coordinator, Anita Johnson, before Dennis was finally able to vote.

Anita met Dennis in September 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. Under Wisconsin’s original voter photo ID law, his Illinois driver’s license was not acceptable for voting. Nor was his VA card acceptable at the time. (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 “Denet” on his birth certificate instead of Dennis. Fortunately, his initial Social Security application also specified Denet; otherwise, Dennis would not have been able to obtain his Wisconsin state ID to vote!

Unfortunately, Dennis is not alone in this experience. Many African Americans born in the Jim Crow South face challenges getting their birth certificates; frequently, births at home or in Black hospitals were not officially recorded, or their documentation has disqualifying errors.

“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.”

VoteRiders made sure that Dennis received his photo ID to vote in time for the April 2016 Wisconsin Spring Election and Presidential Preference Primary.

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.