My Journey to VoteRiders: Introducing Our New Communications Director

By Reid Magney

As the new Communications Director at VoteRiders, I’m excited to tell you a little about my background, my time as a Wisconsin state election official, and why I chose to join VoteRiders at such a critical time.

I spent more than two decades working in Wisconsin elections, first as a reporter covering government and politics, and then as a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Elections Commission (the state’s independent elections agency). I’ve seen firsthand how voter ID laws are passed and implemented, as well as their impact on eligible voters. That’s why I’m thrilled to help spread the news about the vital work VoteRiders is doing around the country — work that we’re doing against a backdrop of many states actively considering or having passed new or stricter voter ID laws in the last year.

In 2009, I became the public information officer at the state’s elections agency, then known as the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) and later the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC). The staff was always required to be nonpartisan. My experience working as a journalist and as an election official (where I had to work with people of all political persuasions but be nonpartisan myself) was one of the things that later attracted me to VoteRiders — because of its commitment to nonpartisanship.

It was at the GAB that I really became aware of voter ID laws. Wisconsin’s legislature had passed voter ID laws twice in the mid-2000s, but they were vetoed by the governor. The GAB did not take a position on voter ID policies or legislation despite mounting pressure to do so.

In 2011, Wisconsin’s legislature once again passed a voter ID law, which this time was signed into law. The GAB offered suggestions to the legislature on what to include in the law, including allowing voters without an ID to submit a written affidavit, which was not ultimately included in the legislation.

The new law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, gave the GAB responsibility for administering the law. This included providing training for the state’s 1,850 municipal clerks and 30,000 poll workers. It also involved developing a statewide voter ID education campaign. I was part of the team responsible for developing a public information campaign to alert voters to new ID requirements.

In early 2012, Wisconsin’s voter ID law was being challenged in the courts and the legislation was enjoined before the April 2012 spring election and presidential primary. After years of legal battles, the law was allowed to stand in March 2015 and was first in effect for the 2016 electoral cycle.

While challenges to the law were making their way through state and federal courts, VoteRiders sprang into action, recognizing the need to help Wisconsin voters cut through the confusion in order to cast a ballot. VoteRiders placed a staff member on the ground in the state, which I welcomed because our small state agency didn’t have the personnel to work with voters in the field. VoteRiders helped ensure that Wisconsinites had the ID information and assistance they needed, and helped individual voters understand and adhere to the state’s new law. The grassroots work of VoteRiders also helped spur important changes to the implementation of Wisconsin’s voter ID law, exposing gaps and challenges in the legislation that were creating barriers to voters’ ability to cast a ballot.

One of those gaps was in the offer of a free ID at the DMV. To help the law survive legal challenges, the administration added a program called the ID Petition Process (IDPP) at the DMV. It’s one thing to offer people a free state ID, but if they don’t have or cannot afford to get supporting documents like a birth certificate or proof of residence, how is the ID really free or even available?

In theory, IDPP was set up so all you needed to do was show up at a DMV office with whatever documentation you had, even if it meant a family Bible or other non-official records. From there, DMV workers would take your photo for a temporary ID document that would be mailed to you. The temporary ID would be good while a special unit at DMV reviewed the documents you provided and verified your identity by contacting the vital records office where your birth certificate was on file, etc.

In practice, it wasn’t always that easy, which we learned about thanks to VoteRiders. I think the problems they identified helped spur positive changes at the DMV, including better training for frontline workers about how to serve people seeking a free ID to vote who did not have all the required documentation.

I understand that polling shows support for voter ID laws, and that the majority of voters are able to comply with them.  But I also know that tens of millions of Americans across the country cannot. Beyond that, I also know these laws cause a lot of unnecessary confusion that keeps people from voting even though they have what they need. And I sometimes wonder if these laws would receive continued support if Americans had a better understanding of their impact on real voters.

My decade of experience working with voter ID laws tells me that there are many real citizens who fall through the cracks and are unable to vote – or who have great difficulty voting because of these laws. One qualified citizen prevented from voting by ID laws is too many.

People lose things like wallets and purses, or they get stolen. They move from state to state and can’t always afford a new license right away or they can’t get the documents they need to get an ID in their new state of residence. That doesn’t mean these people don’t deserve to vote.

After 12 years with the state working on voter ID issues, I eagerly accepted the new challenge of serving as VoteRiders’ Communications Director. To me, VoteRiders is a great place to continue working in elections, but from a different angle. The organization has been able to reach millions of voters through partnerships with thousands of local grassroots groups across the country, including in my home state of Wisconsin.

In recent years, I was constantly battling election misinformation and disinformation, something Americans have been dealing with a lot lately. Election misinformation related to voter ID causes confusion and creates huge problems, causing some citizens to skip voting – even when they already have the ID they need to cast a ballot! That’s just one reason why it’s so important VoteRiders is working nationwide – so we can provide voters with accurate, nonpartisan information.

My new mission is to raise awareness about the crucial and impactful work VoteRiders has been doing for nearly a decade, so we can reach even more people who need our help. I’ll be working with our staff to create educational materials, promoting our volunteer events and Voter ID Clinics, and reaching out to the media to ensure we’re part of the conversation about voter ID laws.

I hope you’ll all join me in helping me get the word out about VoteRiders. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for our email list to get the latest updates on our vital work. Forward them to your friends. We would also love it if you would consider making a donation or donating your time as a volunteer in the coming year!

I’m thrilled now to help VoteRiders reach even more people who need help with voter ID, uplift the stories of voters who are impacted by voter ID laws, and help tell VoteRiders’ inspiring story of helping millions of these voters to be able to make their voices heard at the ballot box.