The distinguished federal Appeals Court judge who in 2007 wrote an opinion upholding Indiana’s voter ID law recently said the court was wrong in upholding “a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.” This is significant in Wisconsin as three of the four lawsuits challenging our state’s voter ID law go to trial in November. The law has been blocked by the courts since March 2012. Two of the lawsuits are in state court. The League of Women Voters’ challenge claims the state legislature violated the state constitution when it enacted a law that added a new qualification for voting – something which can only be done with a constitutional amendment.
A separate lawsuit filed in state court by the Milwaukee Chapter of NAACP and Voces de la Frontera claims the law violates the state constitution by imposing unreasonable burdens for some people which are tantamount to a denial of their right to vote. They cite the estimated 300,000 currently registered voters in our state who do not possess an acceptable ID.
Both of these challenges had victories in Circuit Court in 2012, resulting in two separate injunctions on the voter ID law. A Wisconsin Appeals Court in May reversed the League’s injunction, and the League is seeking a review of that ruling by the state Supreme Court. The other case is scheduled for oral arguments on November 14.
There are also two federal lawsuits. One was filed by a national group called The Advancement Project and the other by the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty on behalf of 25 Wisconsin voters. These are the first challenges to a voter ID law nationally to go to trial that are based on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 has taken on heightened significance since the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down other key parts of the law. The ACLU lawsuit also claims the Wisconsin ID law violates the U.S. Constitution. Both federal cases were assigned to Judge Lynn Adelman who will hear oral arguments on November 4.
Meanwhile voter ID proponents in the state legislature are promising to pass new legislation that will “make voter photo identification constitutional.” Is that an admission that they know the Wisconsin voter ID law is unconstitutional?
One wonders how they will craft a new law so it will not unfairly burden certain groups of citizens, including women who have changed or hyphenated their names recently, elderly citizens without ID who have difficulty getting the required birth certificate, disabled citizens who are more likely not to have an acceptable ID and will definitely have more difficulty getting to the DMV, as well as students and others who move frequently.
Lawmakers should ask themselves how they can justify a law that prevents qualified people from voting, when it would do nothing to address the few cases of illegal voting we have seen in our state. They should also ask how they can justify the millions of taxpayer dollars annually needed to implement the law.
Surely lawmakers can find better ways to keep elections free, fair and accessible.