The Basics of Becoming a Wisconsin Voter



By Pat Kreitlow

September 14, 2020

Find out if you’re eligible, and what you need to do to get registered.

This article is part of COURIER’s Your Vote 2020 hub. For more stories from each of the battleground states, along with national reporting, visit the site here. And for more coverage designed to help you cast a ballot this fall, see our special page on the election: Your Vote Matters

This page covers the basics about becoming a voter, checking your registration status, having the right identification, and knowing if you’re ready to vote on Nov. 3.

To Be a Voter, You Need to Be a Registered Voter

It’s always a good first step—and an easy one— to check your current voting registration status as recorded by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, just in case things have changed or you’ve forgotten something.

You’ll see a lot of references in this voter guide to pages on their website: And many times the first recommended step on the website is to check whether you are currently registered to vote.

A search box with just three blanks is where you’ll start: First Name, Last Name, Birthdate.

Image from

If a matching record is found for you, review it for accuracy. There is a button to update your name or address.

If there is no matching record, the website will say, “You Are Not Registered.” There is a button to start the registration process.

But first, let’s make sure you’re eligible to vote on Nov. 3. (You probably are.)

Voting Is for (Almost) Everyone

The website sums up voter eligibility in six questions. 

  1. Are you a U.S. citizen? 
  2. Will you be at least 18 years old at the time of the next election? 
  3. Do you have a Wisconsin drivers license or a Wisconsin identification card? 
  4. Will you have resided at your current address for at least 28 days prior to the upcoming election, with no present intent to move? (Note: This requirement was put in place by a court ruling this past June. More about that below.)
  5. Are you currently serving a court sentence for a felony criminal conviction, including probation, parole, or supervision?
  6. Are you otherwise disqualified from voting? (Usually a rare instance of some other court determination that bars you from voting.)

As of Sept. 1, Wisconsin has 3,476,347 registered voters. For a brief moment you too can wear the title of “Wisconsin’s newest registered voter.”

Gas and electric bills
A utility bill showing your name and address, dated at least 90 days prior to an election, is an example of the proof of residency required to register to vote. (Shutterstock image)

To Become a Registered Voter, You Need Proof of Residency 

Voting is all about representation of where you live because you don’t just live at an address. You live in a school district, a county, a congressional district, two legislative districts, a municipality, and several other units of government. So to be a registered voter and decide which candidates will represent your place, you have to prove you live at your place.

There are many ways to supply proof of your address. This document from the website lists them all. The most common ones are a real estate (property) tax bill; a utility bill (electric, gas, phone) from at least 90 days prior to the election; a bank or credit card statement; a paycheck or pay stub; or a check or other document issued to you by a unit of government.

People without a permanent address can also register to vote by providing a note on letterhead from a social service agency (public or private) that identifies the homeless voter and describes the person’s residence for voting purposes.

There are exceptions to residency requirements for military and permanent overseas voters.

Once you have completed the registration steps—either online by Oct. 14, or at your local clerk’s office, or on Election Day at your polling station, you’re ready to vote. Remember your ID.

The Basics of Becoming a Wisconsin Voter
Wisconsin drivers license and identification card. (Image from WI Dept. of Transportation)

To Vote on Election Day, You Need Proof of Identification

Voter fraud is so rare—such a statistically insignificant sliver of the total electorate, and so nearly impossible to execute on a scale large enough to sway an entire election—that the recent aggressive push by Republicans to implement Voter ID laws is seen by many less as an anti-fraud safeguard and more as a hurdle designed to suppress votes by populations less likely to have government-issued forms of identification.

But, it’s what’s on the books right now, so let’s review the many ways you ensure you have an ID on election day.

As seen on this state Voter ID web page, there are identification options besides the usual state-issued Wisconsin drivers license. The state can provide an identification card not related to driving. A passport or a military ID card works, as does an ID card issued by a federally recognized Native American tribal nation, and many student ID cards from accredited universities and colleges. 

Drivers licenses can be used for identification even if driving privileges are revoked or suspended. And student ID cards can still be used even if expired in certain situations. Check the website for details and even more forms of acceptable identification.

An ID card does not have to list your correct, current address. You register to vote with proof of residency. You cast a vote with identification. 

It’s okay if you don’t look exactly like your ID photo anymore because of weight changes, hair color, facial hair, etc., but it does have to be a reasonable resemblance.

Same goes for your name. Rich or Richard, Bob or Robert, Susie or Susan, you’re all good.

To get a state-issued identification card at your local  Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office, follow the instructions on their website to bring a birth certificate (or other proof of your name and birthdate), proof of identity such as a Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare card, proof of residency (like a utility bill), proof of US citizenship, and a Social Security number. Even if you don’t have those items, you can bring what you have to the DMV, fill out a couple of forms, and have an ID issued to you for voting.

The state Dept. of Transportation has a website to help you find your nearest DMV office and its hours of operation.

For more details and other questions, contact the Wisconsin Voter ID Hotline at 844-588-1069.

The Basics of Becoming a Wisconsin Voter
(Image by Shutterstock)

Moving within 28 days of the election may affect your right to vote

A decision by a federal Appeals Court in late June upheld requirements passed in 2011 when Republicans took over the Legislature and passed some of the nation’s biggest barriers to voting. They included a 28-day residency requirement before someone can vote in their new precinct. The old limit had been 10 days.

People who move within that time frame—Oct. 7 to Nov. 3 this year—are forced to determine whether they are still qualified to vote at their old address for candidates who would no longer represent them.

However, the rules are a little different, specifically in presidential elections, for voters who moved into Wisconsin from another state within the 28-day window. Such voters are still qualified to vote in the race for president and vice president, and only that race, using their new Wisconsin address.

Now that you’ve learned how to register and determined that you’re eligible to vote, it’s time to look at your three options for voting. Yes, three! There’s traditional in-person voting at your polling place on election day, early in-person voting at your local clerk’s office, and absentee voting from home. Learn more by continuing to follow our coverage on UpNorthNews Your Vote 2020: Make It Matter.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.



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