Federal Court Upholds Voter ID Law

Earlier this summer, Tidbits reported that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had issued its long awaited opinions (League of Women Voters v. Walker and Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker) upholding Wisconsin’s controversial Voter ID law (2013 Wisconsin Act 23) and declaring it constitutional.

However, the law was still on hold after the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision because Judge Lynn Adelman of the United States District Court (Eastern Dist. of Wisconsin) had previously ruled that Act 23 was unconstitutional and enjoined the law from being implemented.

On Friday, September 12, 2014, The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed Judge Adelman’s ruling (Frank v. Scott Walker and League of United Latin American Citizens v. Judge David Deininger) and dissolved the lower court’s injunction. According to the appellate court:

The district court held the state law invalid, and enjoined its implementation, even though it is materially identical to Indiana’s photo ID statute, which the [United States] Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008).

It did this based on findings that it thought showed that Wisconsin did not need this law to promote an important governmental interest, and that persons of lower income (disproportionately minorities) are less likely to have driver’s licenses, other acceptable photo ID, or the birth certificates needed to obtain them, which led the court to hold that the statute violates §2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §1973.

After the district court’s decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker, 2014 WI 98 (July 31, 2014). This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury, and it also changes the balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief. The panel has concluded that the state’s probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.

As a result of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) announced that it would implement Act 23 for the upcoming fall election.

On Tuesday, September 16, GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy held a press conference where he said that absentee voters who have already been mailed an absentee ballot will be required to submit a qualifying ID before the election. According to Kennedy, those individuals who don’t provide an ID will have their ballots treated as provisional ballots and will then have until 4:00 p.m. on the Friday following the election to show their IDs.

For the remaining absentee ballots that have not been mailed, clerks will need photo IDs before sending the ballots.

Opponents of the decision have appealed the three-judge panel’s decision to the full U.S. Court of Appeals and therefore it could still be stayed before the election. However, the likelihood of that occurring is somewhat slim.


Questions about voting? Check the Government Accountability Board website or contact Hamilton Consulting.