Mar 23 4:20 PM

Supreme Court lets Wisconsin voter ID law stand

With the new law still suspended, Wisconsinites voted in high numbers in November. The Supreme Court has since allowed the state’s strict voter ID requirements to go into effect.
Darren Hauck / Getty Images

The Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to Wisconsin’s strict voter identification requirements. The Republican-backed law, which requires citizens to present state-approved photo ID before casting a ballot, was opposed by Wisconsin Democrats and civil rights groups, such as the ACLU and the Advancement Project.

Voting rights advocates say the law disproportionately disenfranchises poor, minority and elderly populations.

In a statement, Advocacy Project Co-director Penda Hair said that “300,000 registered Wisconsin voters who lack the limited forms of photo ID needed to vote in Wisconsin — disproportionately African Americans and Latinos” would be denied access to the polls under the law, and that keeping the law in place ran counter to the “values enshrined in our Constitution, and protected in the Voting Rights Act.”

In its brief, the ACLU argued the Wisconsin law violated “the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Our elections should always be free, fair and accessible to all citizens,” said Hair. “Under Wisconsin’s restrictive photo ID law, they simply are not.”

Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker originally signed the voting restrictions into law in 2011, but a federal district judge ruled it unconstitutional last year. A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of appeals overturned that decision in September, but the Supreme Court blocked implementation of the law in October, declaring a change in rules so close to the November general election (and after absentee ballots had already been issued) would sow confusion.

With early voting already underway for April 7 Wisconsin municipal elections, state officials have agreed with a new ACLU petition, and will delay implementation of the law until after next month’s vote.

Republicans argue that restrictions to voter access are necessary to prevent fraud. But incidents of voter fraud are vanishingly small, even without strict ID statutes. Still, states under GOP control have enacted a multitude of new elections laws — including voter ID requirements, cutbacks in early voting and polling locations, and reduced opportunities for voter registration. A patchwork of court decisions, up to and including the Supreme Court, blocked some, but allowed others to stand. Between the confusion and the new strict limits on participation, voter turnout was down in a number of states last November.

Wisconsin becomes the eighth state with strict government-issued-photo-ID requirements. The others are Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The Supreme Court previously upheld an Indiana voter identification law in 2008, and allowed Ohio’s voting restrictions to go forward last September. A law in Texas similar to the Wisconsin ID law is pending before a federal appeals court. North Carolina’s slate of voter access restrictions is due to go into effect in 2016, barring intervention by the courts.

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