Wisconsin Voter ID Law Challenged by League of Women Voters

Wisconsin's American Legislative Exchange Council-inspired voter ID law, which will make it harder for students and people of color to vote, is being challenged under the state constitution by the League of Women Voters.

The law requires potential voters to show a valid state-issued driver's license or identification card before they can cast a ballot, rendering many state residents ineligible to vote. Wisconsin, like thirteen other states, passed the law earlier this year based on the ALEC "model" voter ID bill.

New Voting Barriers For Many Wisconsin Residents

"We are appalled by the stories the League is hearing about the barriers people are facing in trying to get an acceptable ID," said the organization's president, Melanie G. Ramey, in a press release.

Those without the required ID include around 300,000 state university students and a staggering number of other groups -- 55 percent of all African American males and 49 percent of African American women; 46 percent of Hispanic men and 59 percent of Hispanic women; 78 percent of African American men age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24; 23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65, and 17 percent of white men and women. Additionally, the test run of the new law led to confusion among poll workers and lines so long people left without voting -- and the same problems are expected to arise when the law is implemented next year.

Although Wisconsin's voter ID law offers free IDs, just like the ALEC bill, Wisconsin's Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices are generally only open during limited hours and only on weekdays, many are open only a few hours a month, and DMVs are not every county has a DMV office. Governor Scott Walker initially announced plans to close as many as ten DMV offices where people could obtain IDs but has since backed off that pledge.

Law Allegedly Violates Wisconsin Constitution

The law's disproportionate impact on discrete populations could make it subject to challenge under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which requires states "provide equal protection of the laws." But the League of Women Voters is bringing its suit based on the Wisconsin Constitution's strong voting rights protections, arguing the legislature exceeded its constitutional authority in enacting the law.

Article III, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution provides that all state residents who are U.S. citizens and over age 18 may vote, and Section 2, according to the League's complaint, "provides the exclusive basis for which laws may be created to implement the constitutional requirements for voting." The League argues that the state constitution only permits the legislature to pass voting laws permitted under that section, which are limited to those (1) defining residency; (2) providing for voter registration; (3) providing for absentee voting; and (4) excluding felons from voting and those deemed incompetent by a court.

According to the League's attorney, Lester Pines, "The Wisconsin Constitution only allows the legislature to exclude two named classes from voting -- felons and people ruled incompetent. The new law creates a third class of citizens who may not vote -- people who do not have ID. This lawsuit challenges the legislature's authority to enact such a law," he says in a press release.

Equal Protection Challenge Still Possible

The Wisconsin Constitution's explicit protection of voting rights provided a stronger basis for which to challenge the law than under the U.S. Constitution. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a similar law passed by Indiana did not violate the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection clause.

Notably, in upholding the Indiana law, the U.S. Supreme Court's plurality decision said there was no evidence of the voter fraud the law was ostensibly intended to combat. Still, the court said such a justification was legitimate, even without evidence, and upheld the law because the voting requirements imposed a minimal burden on potential voters.

But there are significant differences between Indiana and Wisconsin. Unlike Wisconsin, where a staggering number of students and people of color will be ineligible under the law, 99 percent of Indiana's voting-age population already had the necessary identification to vote. Additionally, Indiana had DMVs in every county, many are open on weekends, and all are open on a far more regular basis than those in Wisconsin. Some believe that if Wisconsin's voter ID law survives a challenge under the state constitution, an Equal Protection lawsuit could still be successful.

ALEC Voter ID Has Swept the Nation

In the wake of the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years in the 2008 presidential election (particularly among university students and African-Americans), ALEC's "Voter ID" legislation has been rapidly moving in state legislatures. Shortly after the election of the nation's first black president, "Preventing Election Fraud" was the cover story on the Inside ALEC magazine, and ALEC corporations and politicians voted for "model" voter legislation in 2009.

Wisconsin is one of fourteen states that passed a voter ID law based on the ALEC template in the past year. All were justified on the specter of voter fraud, which belies the statistical reality that such fraud in the U.S. is exceedingly rare. Voter ID legislation, though, will have a statistically significant effect of depriving many American citizens of their right to vote. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, around five million eligible voters around the country will be affected by the new laws.

The idea of limiting the number of people who vote is closely associated with ALEC's founder, Paul Weyrich. Among many of Weyrich's statements over the years tailored to advance the white fundamentalist agenda, in 1980 he told a group of religious conservatives: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."


Really? Having people show their I.D. is on here as some sort of travesty of justice? Good grief. We hear about voter fraud all the time. Of drunks and homeless people being picked up, put on a van and taken to precincts all the time to vote a certain way. Having a valid I.D. would eliminate this practice. But I didn't need to tell you this - you know it. We all know it. We didn't come to this site because we we're stupid. We came here because we know that there is things like voter fraud going on. And to have this article basically telling us to be in shock that Wisconsin is requiring proof of who you are and where you live...well, it's insulting.

Seriously, you have been "hearing" about voter fraud because it has become a partisan talking point designed to create cover for this effort to disenfranchise millions of potential voters. No one said you were stupid just because you have bought into the hype. Rather than feel unintentionally insulted, I challenge you to present any significant and documented evidence of the claims about people rounding up homeless or drunk citizens to vote in Wisconsin. The fact is that people still have to be registered to vote or be able to demonstrate that they live in the precinct (and people who have lost their homes may not have money but they still have a right to vote if they can show some documentation of where they reside). You have been grossly misled about the statistical odds of voter fraud versus the more widespread problems that have been documented in recent years of people's votes being accurately counted before winners are declared. Please feel free to post any evidence you have about prosecutions for voter fraud in Wisconsin in the past three, five, ten years or more. You will discover, contrary to some claims, it to be exceedingly rare. To stop something that might have occurred in perhaps .000001 of all votes, millions are likely to be denied the right to vote across the country. In most states, before this wave of changes to the law (changes that are part of the ALEC agenda and also part of the Karl Rove plan to shed a couple percent of likely voters in swing states), a person could present proof of residence (a recent utility bill) or an expired driver's license (which only means you cannot drive, not that you are not who you are), and be able to exercise a core right in a democracy, the right to vote. The changes to the law were designed to make it more difficult for many people, mainly people considered likely to vote Democratic, more difficult to vote. People in cities who use public transportation, who don't drive or don't have a car, often do not have a driver's license. The elderly and people with disabilities often do not have a driver's license but use other forms of identification to obtain benefits or medicine. The bill was also deliberately written in ways to make it difficult for a college student to vote where he or she lives most if not all of the year. Many college students do not change the driver's licenses they got at age 16 from their parents' home, but have been able to establish identity and residency to vote where they live during college through showing a lease, for example. The bills would basically require poll workers to turn away student voters away even if they are obviously citizens who reside in the district where the voting booth is located. Like a magician's use of sleight of hand, the focus on the boogeyman of voter fraud distracts from other more pressing problems in our democracy, and it has been used to cover the most wide-reaching voter disenfranchisement effort in recent decades.

I had the privilege of serving over 20 years as a poll worker in Wisconsin until earlier this year when I moved to Florida. In all those years working at various polling sites throughout our community I never experienced one instance of voter fraud - not one! I am also unaware of any voter fraud incidents during that time in the rest of the city/county.

And...how would you know? If you didn't detect it, and the powers to be didn't care to pursue...how would you know? Minnesota had over 1000 felons vote for Al Frankin and nobody even called them on it. Did you have a felon vote?

You allege it, it's up to you to prove it. What you're really saying is that you want to preempt what you think is a <i>potential</i> problem, and if that winds up disenfranchising a lot more rightful voters who just might not vote your way, so much the better. As far as your claim of "over 1000 felons for Al Frankin" is concerned, true or false, the solution is simple: the right of a US citizen to vote should be inalienable, felon or not, in or out of prison.

You're wrong Mutternich - when a person commits a crime/felon they lose their rights (dah - that's why they go to jail); it part of the punishment (you lose your freedom and your right to take part in society and to vote). You people would think different if your mother was killed by someone...would you want that person to be able to vote for things in society that won't affect him but WILL affect you?! Grow up!

Use your brain - just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't happening. Take for instance murder - you don't see it taking place as you walk down the street - BUT I have news for you - it IS happening! Take for instance sex offenders - you don't see it when you drive thru your neighborhood or pick your kids up at school - BUT it IS happening.

You're insulted? My, my, my. You should be insulted that Wisconsin even bought such a frivolous law into being. The fact that 13-14 states are even entertaining this trash proves that the USA is no longer deserving of democracy and needs a strong dictator until this right-wing crap is straightened out... permanently!

Although their numbers, as a percentage of the whole, are small, this also eliminates them. How do you get a drivers license if you don't have an address? how do you even prove that you are a resident of a State, if your living in a tent out in the woods?

So what stops a homeless person from voting in more than one state? What stops me from going to the state next door and saying "I'm homeless and live in the streets of Minneapolis and I want to vote"? The poll people are just suppose to believe the person - WRONG! Wake up.