A federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s new voter identification law last week, ruling that the law violated the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from imposing a voting qualification that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
In his ruling, District Judge Lynn Adelman found that Wisconsin did not sufficiently prove that voter fraud exists. “The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” wrote Adelman. “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.” The judge also found that the law unjustifiably targeted minority voters, who were less likely to have qualifying identification than whites, and would result in less opportunities for minorities to participate in the political process. This result would be particularly troublesome given Judge Adelman’s finding that “the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination.”
Commenting on the ruling, Dale Ho, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, said, “This is a warning to other states that are trying to make it harder for citizens to vote.” He continued, “This decision put them on notice that they can’t tamper with citizens’ fundamental right to cast a ballot. The people, and our democracy, deserve and demand better.” The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and Dechert LLP argued the Wisconsin case at trial.
Several other states have recently passed or are trying to pass similar voting restrictions, leading to lawsuits and court battles. Just last month, for example, Arkansas judge Tim Fox struck down that state’s voter identification law, ruling that it violated the Arkansas state constitution.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25 percent of eligible African-American voters, 18 percent of people aged 65 and up, and many students do not have a current government-issued photo ID card. In addition, 34 percent of women voters do not have an ID that reflects their current name. These issues were prominent in the Wisconsin case. One of the plaintiffs Shirley Brown, an African-American woman in her seventies who had voted for decades in Wisconsin, was denied an ID because she did not have a birth certificate. “The assault on voting rights is a naked attempt to suppress the votes of minorities, students, the elderly, and the poor,” wrote Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal and Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine in an Op-Ed for MSNBC. “But don’t be fooled. This War on Voting is an essential part of the War on Women.”
Media Resources: ACLU 4/29/14; The Washington Post 4/29/14, 4/24/14; MSNBC.com 10/20/13; Brennan Center for Justice