News

Wisconsin Voter ID Law Deemed Unconstitutional

IAN HEDGES, News Editor

As the federal government moves to halt many of the voter ID laws passed in other states, two Wisconsin judges blocked the 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 which mandated that all Wisconsin residents show an ID with a signature and expiration date when voting.

If the law were still inacted, it would require that voters showed a driver’s license, state issued ID card, military ID, passport, tribal ID, college ID or naturalization certificate. In response to this law, Beloit College changed the format of its own college IDs, adding a signature and dates of issue and expiration to the front of the college ID so that students could use it to vote.

In the first ruling, Judge David Flanagan ordered that the voter ID law be delayed and not implemented for the April 3 Wisconsin primary. However, Dane County Judge Richard Niess issued an injunction a week later that permanently invalidated the law because it was unconstitutional and had no merit to remain on the books.

Judge Niess wrote in his eight-page opinion that, “A government that undermines the very foundation of its existence–the people’s inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote–imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people…It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution. This is precisely what 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 does with its photo ID mandates.”

Proponents of the law argued that it was passed to reduce fraud and to boost the legitimacy of Wisconsin elections. Opponents argued that voter impersonations are rare and that the law disenfranchises the elderly, lower-income, African-American, and Hispanic citizens. Furthermore, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network filed a suit, with the help of a Wisconsin attorney Lestor Pines, arguing that the provision about voting in the state’s constitution is not ambiguous, and the voter ID law contradicts the original intents of the provision. Judge Niess agreed, saying, “Every United States citizen 18 years of age or older who resides in an election district in Wisconsin is a qualified elector in that district, unless excluded by duly enacted laws barring certain convicted felons or adjudicated incompetents/partially incompetents. The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses those qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily-created qualifications not contained in Article III, such as a photo ID.”

In the first trial with Judge Flanagan, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Ken Mayer testified that there are more than 220,000 Wisconsin residents who do not have photo IDs but would qualify otherwise. Mayer went as far to say that Wisconsin’s law is the most restrictive voter ID law in the country.

Legal experts say that the law will be not gone for long. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B.  Van Hollen, a Republican, stated that his office planned to file an appeal with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Governor Scott Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie added that, “We are confident that the state will prevail in its plan to implement photo ID.”

Depending on further action, this decision might apply to the possible recall elections of Gov. Scott Walker (R) and and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) on June 5th.

Source: Huffington Post, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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