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Judge Blocks Wisconsin Voter ID Law

That Brennan Center report on the difficulties eligible voters may have securing voter ID based its statistics on the 10 states with voter ID laws on the books. But not all of them may get to use them in 2012. South Carolina and Texas have had their laws blocked by the Justice Department under Voting Rights Act pre-clearance requirements. Both are fighting that in court. Another court battle at the state level has blocked for now the voter ID law in Wisconsin.

A Dane County judge on Tuesday permanently barred enforcement of the photo identification requirements of Wisconsin’s voter ID law, saying that it imposes too great a burden on voters in Wisconsin than the state constitution allows.

Circuit Judge David Flanagan ruled that Wisconsin Act 23, the voter ID law, “tells more than 300,000 Wisconsin voters who do not now have an acceptable form of photo identification that they cannot vote unless they first obtain a photo ID card.”

That requirement, he wrote, imposes a “substantial burden” upon a significant proportion of state residents who are registered or eligible to vote because of the cost and difficulty of obtaining documents needed to apply for a state photo ID. That creates a “substantial impairment” to the right to vote guaranteed by the Wisconsin Constitution, he wrote.

Not every state has a constitutional guarantee for voting rights, but Wisconsin does, and the ID statute comes into conflict with that, according to this county judge. That’s subject to appeal. But there are already voter ID challenges in the appeals process; a previous ruling invalidated the law as well. The state Supreme Court has said they will wait for the appeals process to play out before jumping in with a ruling. Depending on the speed of that process, it’s likely that voter ID will not be required at the polls in Wisconsin in the 2012 elections.

The problem is that Wisconsin poll workers, in isolated cases, have asked for voter ID in recent elections, unaware of the injunction from the courts. This represents a violation of state voting rights, but such cases are difficult to substantiate, and the damage may already be done if it causes a legal voter to be turned away from the polls. So just the threat of a voter ID law can lead to negative outcomes and suppression.

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David Dayen

David Dayen