Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Just Experienced Another Setback

Another nail in the coffin.

Charles Lankford leaves a voting booth after casting a ballot in the Wisconsin recall election June 5, 2012 in Clinton, Wisconsin.
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
April 29, 2014, 1:55 p.m.

It’s been called “the most re­strict­ive voter-ID le­gis­la­tion in the na­tion.” Now, it’s just a lame duck.

On Tues­day, a fed­er­al judge struck down Wis­con­sin’s voter-iden­ti­fic­a­tion law, which had already been re­jec­ted by the state Su­preme Court. The law, passed in 2011, re­quired all voters to present a state-is­sued photo ID to be able to vote.

Such voter-ID laws have gained pop­ular­ity in con­ser­vat­ive states, and they pur­port to pre­vent voter fraud. But Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ents ar­gue that the laws un­fairly im­pede minor­ity voters, who are more likely to vote Demo­crat­ic.

It’s doubt­ful the cur­rent law could be re­in­stated in time for Gov. Scott Walk­er’s reelec­tion in Novem­ber. If pos­sible, it would take a Her­culean ef­fort on the part of the law’s sup­port­ers to go through the fed­er­al Ap­peals Court.

The de­cision found that Wis­con­sin’s law vi­ol­ated Sec­tion 2 of the Vot­ing Rights Act, which pro­hib­its prac­tices that res­ult in the dis­en­fran­chise­ment of minor­ity voters.

Just how much of a prob­lem is voter fraud in Wis­con­sin? In 2008, the state Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Board sur­veyed counties’ pro­sec­ut­ing at­tor­ney of­fices and found that “a total of six crim­in­al com­plaints had been filed al­leging voter fraud.” (Walk­er’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has but­ted heads with GAB mem­bers in the past.)

In his de­cision, U.S. Dis­trict Judge Lynne Ad­el­man re­jec­ted the state’s ar­gu­ment that the voter-ID law was a small im­ped­i­ment for voters and so would not vi­ol­ate the Vot­ing Rights Act.

“There is noth­ing in these cases in­dic­at­ing that a Sec­tion 2 plaintiff must show that the chal­lenged vot­ing prac­tice makes it im­possible for minor­it­ies to vote or that minor­it­ies are in­cap­able of com­ply­ing with the chal­lenged vot­ing pro­ced­ure,” Ad­el­man wrote. “Even if the bur­den of ob­tain­ing a qual­i­fy­ing ID proves to be min­im­al for the vast ma­jor­ity of Blacks and Lati­nos who will need to ob­tain one in or­der to vote, that bur­den will still de­ter a large num­ber of such Blacks and Lati­nos from vot­ing.”

Ad­el­man ar­gued that the voter-ID law dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected black and Latino voters, who are more likely to lack a qual­i­fy­ing ID or to lack the un­der­ly­ing doc­u­ments they would need to ob­tain a qual­i­fy­ing ID. “In Mil­wau­kee County, only 2.4% of white eli­gible voters lack both a qual­i­fy­ing ID and one or more of the un­der­ly­ing doc­u­ments needed to ob­tain an ID, while 4.5% of Black and 5.9% of Latino eli­gible voters lack both an ID and at least one un­der­ly­ing doc­u­ment,” he wrote.

Un­der the law, Wis­con­sin res­id­ents would have to present one of the nine fol­low­ing forms of ID at their polling place:

  1. A Wis­con­sin driver’s li­cense
  2. A Wis­con­sin state ID card
  3. An ID card is­sued by the U.S. mil­tary
  4. A U.S. pass­port
  5. A nat­ur­al­iz­a­tion cer­ti­fic­ate is­sued with­in the last two years
  6. A tem­por­ary Wis­con­sin driver’s li­cense
  7. A tem­por­ary state ID card
  8. An ID card from a fed­er­ally re­cog­nized In­di­an tribe
  9. An ID card from an ac­cred­ited Wis­con­sin uni­versity or col­lege, along with a doc­u­ment show­ing cur­rent en­roll­ment

Through his de­cision, Ad­el­man one-upped the state Su­preme Court, which was re­view­ing the case. So, even if the state court ruled in fa­vor of the law, it would re­main blocked be­cause of Ad­el­man’s rul­ing.

Need­less to say, the de­cision was in­sult to in­jury for Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers in the state.

“I am dis­ap­poin­ted with the or­der and con­tin­ue to be­lieve Wis­con­sin’s law is con­sti­tu­tion­al,” the state at­tor­ney gen­er­al, J.B. Van Hol­len, said in a two-sen­tence state­ment. “We will ap­peal.”

Rep. Robin Vos, the speak­er of the Wis­con­sin state As­sembly, said state Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t giv­ing up either, and are work­ing on an­oth­er voter-ID bill that would be im­mune to court chal­lenges.

“The U.S. Su­preme Court has said voter ID is con­sti­tu­tion­al. We look for­ward to work­ing with the gov­ernor and our col­leagues in the Sen­ate to do whatever it takes to en­sure voter ID is in place as quickly as pos­sible,” he said. “The in­teg­rity of our elec­tions is too im­port­ant to be caught up in the courts. Voter ID should be law in Wis­con­sin.”

Mean­while, Demo­crats re­joiced na­tion­ally.

“Today, the courts took an im­port­ant step to make sure the right to vote is pro­tec­ted for all eli­gible Wis­con­sin­ites,” the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee said in a state­ment. “This de­cision re­in­forces a com­mit­ment to true equal pro­tec­tion, and re­af­firms that ac­cess to the bal­lot box re­mains a fun­da­ment­al right pro­tec­ted against in­ter­fer­ence in Wis­con­sin and across the coun­try.”

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