Voter ID Law Challenged

Wisconsin’s new voter ID law is facing some legal and logistical challenges. Three lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn or modify the law, one in federal court in Milwaukee and two in Dane County Circuit Court. The lawsuits may determine if a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or other government-issued identification, is necessary if voters want to participate in the February 21st primary election.

The first suit concerning the new law was filed by Wisconsin League of Women Voters. The challengers allege the law violates the suffrage section of the State Constitution. A hearing on that case is set for January 19th in Dane County Circuit Court.

The most recent suit has been filed in Dane County, by the Milwaukee Chapter of the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera. The suit seeks an injunction which would bar implementation of the law before the spring elections or any recall elections.

The state court challenges center around Article III of the Wisconsin Constitution, which contains the following provisions:

Electors. Section One. Every United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district.

Implementation. Section Two. Laws may be enacted:

1. Defining residency.

2. Providing for registration of electors.

3. Providing for absentee voting.

4. Excluding from the right of suffrage persons:

a. convicted of a felony, unless restored to civil rights.

b. adjudged by a court to be incompetent or partially incompetent, unless the judgment specifies that the person is capable of understanding the objective of the elective process or the judgment is set aside.

5. Subject to ratification by the people at a general election, extending the right of suffrage to additional classes.

A federal suit has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty on behalf of a group of senior citizens, minorities and homeless residents. The lawsuit says that the state is violating the U.S. Constitution by infringing on some citizens’ right to vote and to be treated equally under the law and amounts to a kind of poll tax on voters who lack the documents needed to get an approved ID.

The case law that will likely control in all three cases favors the state. In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a plurality of the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s photo ID law, which is similar to Wisconsin’s new law. However, the fractured opinion left open a possibility that such laws might be successfully challenged if they were unfairly or more broadly applied.

Despite the legal challenges, the Government Accountability Board, which is responsible for overseeing state elections, is busy implementing the new law. The GAB plans to launch a television and radio ad campaign on the new law January 2nd. The “Bring it to the Ballot” ads direct people to a state website, where voters can learn more about what IDs can be used for voting and how to get a free state-issued ID.