Politics & Government
1:54 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin Voter ID Law

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman has ruled that requiring photo identification at the polls disproportionately burdens poor and minority voters.

The law was enforced just one time.
The law was enforced just one time.

Wisconsin Republicans enacted the law in 2011, insisting it was needed to deter fraud and ensure the integrity of elections.

Opponents of the law, including the Milwaukee group Voces de la Frontera,  claim it could discourage voting among people unlikely to have a driver's license or government ID or who would find it difficult to obtain one. Voces' Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz is happy the federal judge agreed. “Here in Wisconsin, the threat of having one of the most restrictive voter ID requirements in the country would actually have excluded 300,000 eligible voters from being able to vote in upcoming elections, and that number has never been disputed,” Neumann-Ortiz says.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen released a statement, saying his office will fight to have the law reinstated: "I am disappointed with the order and continue to believe Wisconsin's law is constitutional. We will appeal."

Lane Fitzgerald says the judge missed the common sense factor – that most people think demanding photo identification is reasonable. He’s an attorney with The Fitzgerald Law Firm in Beloit and argued on behalf of Voter ID. “One of the things that I found very disturbing in Judge Adelman’s decision was that one of the reasons he thought the Voter ID law was unconstitutional was because the state was unable to prove voter fraud on a grand scale. Many times Americans look to the government and say, how come they’re not protecting our rights? What you have here is a legislative act that is proactive and now you have the courts saying, you can’t do this, because it’s proactive,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald says he expects court battles to continue until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up Vote ID. Until then, he predicts court decisions will continue to, “split the circuit” – have different outcomes in different courtrooms.

Some have upheld laws similar to Wisconsin’s. Gov. Walker has said he would call lawmakers into special session, if the courts strike down Wisconsin’s version, to approve a different one. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he has already persuaded fellow Republicans to approve a modified law.

Larry DuPuis, of the ACLU of Wisconsin - which has been fighting Voter ID, advises state leaders to proceed slowly when attempting to enact a different version of the law. “Even if it’s as good an ID requirement as any state has imposed, even the ones that have survived judicial challenges, they have had a long lead-in time for public education and roll-out, and they’re just not going to be able to do that in the short term. So I don’t see any purpose in the Legislature rushing to try to get something in place,” DuPuis says.

The date people on both sides may be eyeing is November 4 - General Election.

While Adelman's decision invalidates the state law, a Dane County judge also declared it unconstitutional in 2012, so it was in effect for only one low-turnout election.