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Dispatch from the front lines of the Wisconsin DMV

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Dispatch from the front lines of the Wisconsin DMV

by Rebecca Meacham

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On Thursday,  August 26, 2011, I accompanied my mother Ruth, who has just moved to WI from Ohio, to the Brown County DMV to obtain her Wisconsin Driver's license.  This was our third trip in 2 weeks. It was "successful," in that we got what we came for.  But it was also distressing, hostile, and as my mother put it, "sad." 

The first time we went to the DMV, arriving at 9 am, we walked into a room so crowded and rank with summer sweat, we decided to wait for another day. 

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The second time we went to the DMV, we were first in line at 9:30 am, and a line of 30+people formed behind us before the place opened at 10 am. During that visit, my mother was able to get her car registration transferred, but not a license.  The man at the "information" counter deemed that her proof of residency was unacceptable. 

You Are Not Here* (*unless you want to pay for plates. Then, by all means: You Are Here!)

Wisconsin has also just enacted a new Voter ID law, requiring a photo ID for a person to exercise his/her constitutional right to vote. 

Here's what the WI DMV's website says will prove one's residency for a PHOTO ID card or DRIVER'S LICENSE: 

The following documents are acceptable proof of Wisconsin residency when they include your name and current Wisconsin residence street address:

  • Employee photo identification card issued by your current employer, containing your employer's name and address. Your employer's telephone number may be required for verification.
  • Pay check or stub or earning statement with your name and Wisconsin address, and your employer's name and address, issued within the last 90 days. Your employer's telephone number may be required for verification.
  • A utility bill for water, gas, electricity or landline telephone service issued within the last 90 days. Cable or similar bundles of services that include landline telephone service is included in this category. Electronic copies are acceptable.
  • An account statement from a Wisconsin bank/financial institution issued within the last 90 days. This includes savings, checking or money market accounts held in banks or credit unions. Electronic copies are acceptable.
  • Certified school record or transcript that identifies you by name, shows your current address and is issued within the last 90 days for the most recent school period.
  • Mortgage documents for a residential property located in Wisconsin.
  • Your current valid homeowner, renter or motor vehicle insurance policy dated within one year of application.
  • Government-issued correspondence or product issued within the last 90 days from a federal, state, county or city agency.
  • Department of Corrections documentation: Letters from probation/parole agents on letterhead issued within the last 90 days.
  • Your college enrollment documentation or Form 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status with your current Wisconsin address.

So, here's the thing.  Like so many parents of adult children, or adult children living with parents, or young people, or unemployed people, or the self-employed people-- or basically, like so many other huge swaths of the population of any state-- my mother cannot easily meet these restrictions.  Why?

  1. My mother moved in with me.  She is not a homeowner in WI.  
  2.  Accordingly, my husband and I carry the homeowner's insurance.  
  3.  Accordingly, my husband and I have the utilities in our name. We do not charge her rent.
  4. My mother is working remotely from her law firm in Toledo, and is for all intents and purposes retired in WI.  She has no earnings statements from a WI employer.  She has no photo ID from a WI employer.
  5. My mother will not be opening a Wisconsin bank account (although if she did, there's some question about if the activity would measure up, see here:  since she does her banking online through an international financial institution.  
  6. My mother, thank God, has no correspondence from the Dept. of Corrections (for now!).  She is also not enrolled in school.

On our second visit, my mother attempted to show her Medicare Insurance card (correspondence from a fed govt agency) with her name and the number of a local doctor, but it did not have her address on it.  She also showed a book of checks from her financial institution with her Wisconsin address printed on them.  She was refused a license on that second visit.

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However, during our second visit, she was able to obtain her vehicle registration, which has a less stringent policy as long as you pay the considerable fees.  For example, on the website, the language for REGISTERING YOUR CAR states:

When you become a Wisconsin resident, you must register your vehicle and get Wisconsin license plates. You are a Wisconsin resident if:

  • Your principal residence is in this state
  • You pay your income taxes here
  • You are registered to vote here


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