One of the most restrictive voter-ID laws in the nation was passed by the Republican Wisconsin Legislature following Republican wins in the 2010 midterm elections. This legislation was signed into law, under the auspices of protecting the state from “voter fraud”, by Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2011, with the obvious intent of making it more difficult for the elderly and the young to vote. Unfortunately, a lawsuit to overturn that law by the ACLU has been rejected by a Wisconsin judge – even when faced with the case of “56-year-old Army veteran Carl Ellis, who had to beg for bus money in order to make the multiple trips to the DMV to obtain an acceptable voter ID, because the state would not accept his veterans card.”
Wisconsin’s ‘strict’ voter ID law requires voters to bring state issued photo ID’s (Act 23 qualifying ID’s) to their polling places in order to vote. Under rules in states with a strict voter ID law, “voters without acceptable identification must vote on a provisional ballot and also take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted. For instance, the voter may be required to return to an election office within a few days after the election and present an acceptable ID to have the provisional ballot counted. If the voter does not come back to show ID, the provisional ballot is not counted.” Wisconsin’s law was challenged in Federal Court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claiming that restricting the types of voter ID “unfairly prejudiced local students, veterans, and low-income residents to allow them to use alternative forms of voter ID or have the ability to sign a sworn affidavit at the ballot box.” Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman originally sided with the ACLU and declared the law unconstitutional because he believed the law “disproportionately affected black and Hispanic residents.” However, in September 2014 a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Adelman’s decision – in its opinion the law showed no racial bias.
These earlier suits, which sought to dismantle Wisconsin’s voter ID law by finding it unconstitutional, made it all the way the Supreme Court before the justices refused to hear the case – resulting in the 7th Circuit ruling being upheld. The ACLU, however, decided to bring a fresh, more narrow suit “representing a formerly homeless Army veteran, several technical college students, and an elderly voter who couldn’t access her birth certificate — argued that the strict voter ID law Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed in 2011 placed an unjustified burden on their ability to vote.” Today, Adelman ruled; “The plaintiffs have not convinced me that there are a large number of people who do not possess Act 23-qualifying ID and who could not obtain one.” The suit asked that Wisconsin be required to accept certain photo IDs not classified as Act -23, such as those issued by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Adelman, offering some bizarre caution about the possibility of a slippery slope, said “he won’t push for such an outcome because the state then might be forced to accept all secure forms of government ID. That would produce a very long list…The state had to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable forms of ID somewhere.”
This law was put in place ostensibly to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is a myth fabricated by opportunistic Republicans – it is at best extraordinarily infrequent. In fact, Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, writing for the Washington Post in 2014 said since 2000 he has found 31 reported cases, noting “some of these 31 incidents have been thoroughly investigated (including some prosecutions). But many have not. Based on how other claims have turned out, I’d bet that some of the 31 will end up debunked.”
Whether you think 31 cases of voter fraud in 15 years out of the billions of votes cast by Americans during that period is a problem that requires imposing strict voter ID laws – consider that as ACLU Voting Rights Director Dale Ho says “It’s unconscionable that even veterans, who have so valiantly served our country, can’t use their government-issued IDs under this law.”
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.