Wisconsin Voter ID Law to Face Legal Challenge
A nonpartisan political group is seeking to challenge Wisconsin’s new voter ID law, one of several such pieces of legislation that have been enacted nationwide and are threatening to disenfranchise millions of voters in the 2012 election.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin plans to file a lawsuit contesting the legality of the law, which was drafted by Republican legislators and signed by Gov. Scott Walker in May. The group will argue that requiring a photo ID at the polls is an unnecessary restriction and goes against provisions in the state constitution guaranteeing the right to vote.
“It is absolutely clear that the Legislature paid no attention to the (right to vote) provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution when it passed voter ID," the League of Women voters’ attorney, Lester Pines, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"If anyone is denied the right to vote, that's a big deal because that's an absolutely fundamental right.”
A handful of states have enacted legislation since 2008 that requires ID when voting, despite statistics that indicate 12 percent of American citizens don’t have proper ID.
Wisconsin’s measure will cost about $7 million to implement and is one of the strictest; for instance, the legislation will only accept student IDs of a certain kind and none of the University of Wisconsin system’s IDs currently qualify.
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, Wisconsin’s state constitution includes specific provisions for voter rights—a key argument in the League of Women Voters’ case. While the state constitution doesn’t address IDs, it guarantees “every United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident” the right to vote, subject to restrictions passed by the Legislature such as voter registration and proof of residency.
Rick Esenberg, a law professor at Marquette University and the head of a “conservative public-interest law firm,” told the Journal Sentinel he believes the courts would consider the ID law an extension of residency and registration requirements.
But Pines argued that even a driver’s license with an outdated address can be valid, meaning IDs have little to do with proving residency.
Wisconsin Republicans contend they violated no federal of state laws and believe the legislation will reduce fraud. Officials have found only 20 cases of voter fraud from the 2008 election, in which nearly 3 million people voted—that’s 0.0006 percent of voters. None of those cases involved an identity issue.
Research by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that more than 500,000 eligible voters in the state don’t have proper ID.
Republicans argue they protected voting rights by allowing voters without proper identification to cast a provisional ballot so long as they provide an ID to the election clerk within three days—a move that does nothing to help those who have trouble obtaining an ID that meets the strict requirements in the first place.
Wisconsin has been a hotbed of disenfranchising efforts in recent months. After signing the voter ID law, Walker proposed closing down a number of DMV stations—the majority of them in Democratic areas—thereby making it harder for many residents to obtain an ID. He has since backed off on the idea.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) joined 15 other senators in asking Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this year to explore the legality of voter ID laws.
Requiring photo ID at the polls has a more serious impact on disadvantaged voters, namely students, elderly, people of color, and low-income citizens. It’s this type of disenfranchisement that’s most dangerous—when it is most subtle and quietly discourages rather than explicitly prevents.
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.
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