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by Jay Heck and Jay Riestenberg

In a split decision last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said the state can require voters to produce a state-issued ID card at the polls but can’t require them to pay for it.

The ruling adds a new and confusing wrinkle to an already befuddling scenario for the November election. The state legislature has not created a mechanism for providing free-of-charge IDs to voters and the court didn’t impose one. Meanwhile, a federal district judge has blocked enforcement of the ID law on other grounds, declaring that it’s unconstitutional and violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

Talk about a rock and a hard place.

Some clarity may come from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to rule before Election Day on Wisconsin’s appeal of the district court ruling striking down the ID law. If, as expected, the appellate court also rules against the law, it would be a win for Badger State voters, providing some relief from the impact of a reduction of in-person absentee voting opportunities, elimination of weekend voting, and stringent new voter registration requirements.

Among the new restrictions, Wisconsin’s Voter ID law dates to 2011 and is modeled off legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobby that brings state legislators and corporate lobbyists together to write and vote as equals – behind closed doors -- on “model” bills.

ALEC’s “Voter ID Act” has gained traction over the years.  Wisconsin is now one of 17 states requiring voters to show some form of photo ID at the polls; more than 30 states now require voters to present some form of identification.

While proponents say voter ID laws are meant to stop fraud, research has shown that voter fraud is extremely rare, and that photo ID requirements don’t protect against it. This intuitively and practically makes sense.  Every voter must sign a registry while face-to-face with an elections official, and the penalty for impersonation typically carries fines of up to $10,000 and prison terms. Photo ID, then, is a cure in search of a problem that simply does not exist.

Worse still, photo ID laws often suppress the voting rights of citizens of color, seniors, students, and those with disabilities.  Roughly 11% of the American population either can’t afford or does not have access to the kind of photo ID that Wisconsin now demands – and that several other states already require.  Given that the Wisconsin court found such little evidence of fraud – and, again, the kind of fraud that is not eradicated by the implementation of photo ID – it is perplexing that yet another state has put into play a law that does nothing but suppress turnout.

While the Wisconsin law is still being blocked by the federal court order, last week’s state Supreme Court ruling may leave voters scratching their heads over exactly what kind of ID they’ll need at the polls. “I think a lot of people are confused about whether it’s in effect or not,” said Jay Heck, Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. Common Cause plans on educating voters about the law and is preparing for new voter ID legislation over the next few months.

The type of voter ID law at issue here undermines our democratic process; it creates greater obstacles to voting instead of protecting the interests of voters, particularly those who have long been at the margins of political participation.  The state court seemed irritated that a federal district judge had acted before it got the chance to weigh in.  But now it’s time for the 7th Circuit to demonstrate that voting issues don’t touch just on states’ rights but on fundamental protections enumerated in the federal Constitution.  And those rights deserve to be upheld for every American – in every state.

Jay Heck is the executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin. Jay Riestenberg is a research analyst at Common Cause in Washington, DC. This article was originally published on Common Cause's Democracy Wire.

Originally posted to JayRiestenberg on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 11:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  "Votor Fraud" is indeed rare (11+ / 0-)

    But when it happens, it's usually perpetrated by Republicans trying to vote more than once in any given election.  What the Republicans are really good at, however is "Election Fraud"  by limiting voting opportunities, imposing additional requirements on voting, creating long and confusing ballots, and requiring easily hacked electronic voting machines manufactured by Republican-managed companies.  
    Voting should be done exclusively by paper ballot, marked and signed by the voter.  If it takes a few hours to tally the vote, so be it.  We can wait until an honest count is done.  

  •  Voting is a Right, not a Privilege, (0+ / 0-)

    and as such we should be fighting to get more people to the polls, not less. One way to do this is using the current Vital Records system and States ID System. It could be easily done to allow these documents to be accessed via the internet (securely of course). I for one keep my vital records in the form of a PDF, and these records could be all created on said PDF's for a lot less than it now costs, but that is what this is all about to start with, the money.

    I know some will say that not all have access to the internet, but these days that is not true since the local Libraries have access to the Internet there. So the best way to solve this whole problem is for the government to make it easier to access personalize information.  

  •  The court was legislating from the bench...the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peptabysmal, GeoffT, madcitysailor

    Precedent of "law" has nothing to do with the rulings by the Conservative-led majority.  This was a political decision from bought-n-paid-for justices.  

    Robber Baron "ReTHUGisms": John D. Rockefeller -"The way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets"; Jay Gould -"I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

    by ranton on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 02:54:22 PM PDT

    •  The problem is that they didn't provide a remedy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      madcitysailor, ranton

      If you read Justice Crooks' dissent (and it is a zinger, from page 44 and in particular ¶89 on page 47), the yawning chasm is that the remedy proposed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to bring Act 23 into line with the Constitution - its "saving construction" that they make - is that DMV administrators can use their discretion to waive the requirements of documents for photo ID that people have to pay government(s) for if someone doesn't have them.

      The problem with this that Crooks points out is that DMV administrators are not a party to this case.  As a result, the Supreme Court hasn't - indeed, cannot - order them to do or not do something.

      We are left in a bizarro world where the Supreme Court has identified a specific constitutional problem with Act 23 (namely that making people obtain documents that cost money in order to get a photo ID as a precondition for voting is an unconstitutional poll tax), then proceeded to point out that it's possible under administrative rules for this abridgment of constitutional rights to be avoided, then concluded by not actually ordering any relief for the plaintiffs.

      So right now the Frank plaintiffs can get their photo ID to vote without paying a poll tax provided someone who is certainly not under any obligation from the court to do so - and perhaps hasn't even heard anything about this case - decides to waive the Act 23 documentary requirements.  This is a satisfactory legal conclusion to the extremist majority of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

      Fake candidates nominated by the GOP for the recalls: 6 out of 7. Fake signatures on the recall petitions: 4 out of 1,860,283.

      by GeoffT on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 01:48:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The ReTHUG majority on the WI Supreme Court put (0+ / 0-)

        twisted pretzels to shame over and over in their decisions.  The Conservatives on the Federal Supreme Court could take lessons from the partisan justices in WI when it comes to the twisted legal rationale justifying their partisan rulings.

        Robber Baron "ReTHUGisms": John D. Rockefeller -"The way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets"; Jay Gould -"I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

        by ranton on Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 07:07:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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