Voter ID laws have been sweeping the country state by state in the last year, deliberately barring many progressive-voting citizens from access to the polls. Although it's less likely to commit voter fraud than be struck by lightning, conservatives in state government have been using voter fraud as an excuse to disfranchise people without specific photo identification. The people affected range from students, seniors, low-income communities, the disabled, transgender individuals, and communities of color. In the state of Wisconsin, which has one of the most restrictive voter ID requirements, a judge has temporarily barred the law. An attorney from the NAACP called the decision "a solid victory for voting rights and all voters in the state of Wisconsin." The state will likely appeal. Read below for more details:
A Dane County judge has granted a temporary injunction against Wisconsin's new voter identification law, which he called "the single most restrictive voter eligibility law" in the country.
Circuit Judge David Flanagan's ruling Tuesday means the voter ID requirement would not apply for the April 3 presidential primary and local general election.
A spokesman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the state likely would appeal, and other state election officials pointed out that other aspects of the law will remain in effect, such as having to sign a poll list.
The NAACP's Milwaukee branch and immigration and worker rights group Voces de la Frontera had sued over the law last year. A trial on whether to grant a permanent injunction is scheduled for April 16.
In granting the injunction, Flanagan found that the plaintiffs likely would succeed at trial and would suffer irreparable harm without the court's inter vention.
"It's a solid victory for voting rights and all voters in the state of Wisconsin," said Richard Saks, attorney for the NAACP, at a news conference Tuesday at St. Mark's AME Church, 1616 W. Atkinson Ave.
"It's a win for the hundreds of thousands who have difficulty or find it impossible to get voter ID under Act. 23."
Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), a co-sponsor of the voter ID law, said: "Obviously, I'm disappointed. It's a good piece of legislation. It's a good law. I'm looking forward to having the decision appealed, and I believe at end of the day we will have a photo ID law in effect in Wisconsin."
With the primary looming, he wondered whether confusion would ensue.
"Unfortunately . . . we will have our election system going back and forth," Stone said. "But we will have to allow the legal system to work its way through to get an answer. We have constitutional law."
Flanagan's 11-page order covered the history of Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings upholding votes even when they might have run afoul of technical procedural requirements imposed by the Legislature. He distinguished Wisconsin's voter ID law from Indiana's voter ID law that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
He also relied on the testimony and reports of the plaintiffs' expert, professor Kenneth Mayer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose work concluded there were more than 220,000 constitutionally qualified voters in Wisconsin who don't have the type of ID required under the so-called Act 23 voter ID act, as well as affidavits from 40 residents describing the costs and difficulties they encountered while trying to obtain a photo ID to allow them to vote.
Flanagan found the impact of the law hit disproportionately hard on the elderly, indigent and minorities.
"The scope of the impairment has been shown to be serious, extremely broad and largely needless," Flanagan wrote.
Confidence in appeal
Not surprisingly, reaction to the decision was split along party lines.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said: "Photo ID is a reasonable requirement to make sure that your vote isn't canceled out by someone else's fraud. Fifteen states require photo ID for voting, and 16 more require some other form of ID. Our photo ID bill was based on an Indiana law that was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and I am confident that the appeals process will once again strike down an activist Dane County judge."
He added: "With as many questionable signatures, multiple signers and convicted felons as we've already seen in the recall process, it makes more sense now more than ever to make sure our elections are clean going forward."
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, issued the following statement:
"Requiring photo identification to vote is common sense - we require it to get a library card, cold medicine and public assistance. Gov. Walker looks forward to implementing common sense reforms that protect the electoral process and increases citizens' confidence in the results of our elections."
He continued: "Ensuring the integrity of our elections is one of the core functions of government. We are confident the state will prevail in its plan to implement photo ID."
'Modern-day poll tax'
Democrats cheered the decision.
Mayor Tom Barrett said, "As Judge Flanagan states in his opinion: 'The right to vote is a fundamental, defining element of our society. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has described it as a "sacred right.' "
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore said, "This law does nothing but attempt to return us to an era of Jim Crow politics. Requiring strict photo ID at the polls is nothing more than a modern-day poll tax."
Moore added, "Our right to vote is one of the most protected rights of any that we enjoy in our democratic system. In fact, the Constitution was amended five times over our nation's history to reflect this American ideal."
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces, said: "Justice has been served, but justice doesn't come easy, and we're here to defend and ensure voting rights to all voters."
She and others involved in the case said, however, that although they prevailed, the court battle is not over.
Saks noted that the initial request for a temporary injunction was denied by Flanagan. But then the parties asked for a hearing and after a full day of testimony from Mayer and affidavits and other evidence, the temporary injunction was granted.
Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy said the board will take steps to suspend enforcement of the photo ID requirement and discuss impacts of the change with local election officials and the public.
He noted that Tuesday's ruling does not affect other parts of Act 23 - the requirement that voters have 28 consecutive days of residency and sign a poll list, and ending the practice of allowing someone else to vouch for a voter without proof of residence.
A spokesman with the attorney general's office, which defended the law, said the office was reviewing the ruling.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin also has filed suit in state court challenging the voter ID law. That suit is based on the equal protection clause of the state constitution and says the Legislature never had the authority to pass such a law.
On Monday, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess cleared the way for that case to proceed by dismissing challenges from the state that challenged the league's standing to bring the case and the naming of Walker in the case, said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the league.
A hearing on the constitutional issue in the case will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday, she said.