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Madison leaders criticize state’s DMV consolidation over potential voting implications

January 5, 2018 GMT

Local leaders Thursday criticized the state’s decision to consolidate two of Madison’s Division of Motor Vehicles locations over concerns that limited public transit access at the new location could impact minorities and the disabled, particularly in regard to getting identification for voting.

Madison’s Department of Civil Rights filed a civil rights complaint Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Transportation against the state Department of Transportation over its plan to shut down DMV locations off Sheboygan Avenue and Odana Road and combine their services into a new building on Excelsior Drive on the Far West Side.

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Wisconsin’s voter ID law requires voters to present a valid form of identification, such as a driver’s license or a free voter ID card, before casting a ballot.

“For most residents, Wisconsin’s voter ID law ties the ability to vote to the requirement that a citizen visit the DMV,” Brook Soltvedt, president of the League of Women Voters of Dane County, said at a news conference Thursday.

Mayor Paul Soglin said recent programs and policies by Republican state lawmakers are “designed to thwart the vote and designed to thwart access to government services.”

“The decision to consolidate the two West Side service centers and to move them to a new location, which is one that is isolated in regards to accessibility, is totally unacceptable,” Soglin said.

The new 8417 Excelsior Drive location, opening Jan. 22, is served directly by Metro Transit’s Route 15, but buses don’t stop there between 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The DMV center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The building is served indirectly but more frequently by Route 73, which requires people to walk about 0.3 miles to get there, the city’s complaint says, which could be a challenge for elderly or disabled people.

By contrast, a DMV service center at the old Hill Farms state office building, 4802 Sheboygan Ave., and a renewal center at 6514 Odana Road “are on major transit lines of service and are located immediately adjacent to bus stops,” the complaint said.

Transit times are also significantly longer to get to the Excelsior Drive location compared to the other West Side centers, according to the complaint.

Rebecca Kikkert, a spokeswoman for the DOT, said in an email that “WisDOT took the opportunity to right-size the service center with only one larger facility” that would be “more cost effective.” The new location has easier access to the Beltline, she said.

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Most DMV services, aside from obtaining identification, are also offered online, Kikkert said.

Kikkert did not comment directly on the complaint.

If the complaint is found valid, it’ll ultimately be up to the federal and state transportation departments to work out a remedy, said Norman Davis, director of the city’s Department of Civil Rights.

Davis said this is the first time the department has filed a civil rights complaint against a state agency since its inception in 2006. He said he feels “really confident” about a positive result for the city, but wasn’t sure how long it’ll take for the complaint to be considered.

At the Odana Road property, the state has three years remaining on its lease.

But a discounted rate with the landlord of the Excelsior Drive building would result in a loss of only about $2,000 from paying for two leases, said Steve Michels, spokesman for the state Department of Administration. The loss could be mitigated if the Odana Road property is rented by someone else before the state’s three years is up, he said.

Ultimately, Michels said the new Hill Farms state office building off Sheboygan Avenue, where one of the DMV centers will be shuttered, is expected to save about $3 million a year in rent by eliminating 15 leases for other state agencies when it opens next month.

Soglin said the city would await the result of the complaint before considering altering bus routes.

Drew Beck, Metro Transit planning and scheduling manager, said Route 73 would be the likely route to change if more bus service is requested at Excelsior Drive. But to keep the route’s schedule on track, he said it would probably require another driver and bus.

A separate DMV location on the Far East Side at 2001 Bartillon Drive is unaffected by the change.