In a victory for election integrity, the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the state’s voter ID law against separate challenges by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters. The justices joined the state supreme courts of Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee—as well as the U.S. Supreme Court—in finding laws requiring photo IDs to vote constitutional.
The judges in Wisconsin concluded the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin cases “failed to prove” the law was discriminatory or would keep anyone from voting.
Justice Patience Roggensack, who wrote the majority opinion in both cases, said in the NAACP case that “the burdens of time and inconvenience associated” with obtaining an ID “are not undue burdens on the right to vote and do not render the law invalid.”
This is particularly true, she wrote, because needing a photo ID “is a condition of our times where more and more personal interactions are being modernized to require proof of identify with a specified type of photo identification.” Requiring a photo ID, she added, is a “familiar” burden to voters because it accompanies “many of our everyday tasks.”
Although the Wisconsin law does provide that a free photo ID can be obtained for voting, the court also held that the state could not charge a fee for any supporting documentation needed to obtain the ID, such as the cost of a birth certificate. Because Wisconsin has a tradition of “jealously guarding and protecting” the right to vote, payment of any fee cannot be “an electoral standard.” Thus, the court interpreted the new photo ID law to require the state Division of Motor Vehicles, which issues driver’s licenses and photo IDs, to issue IDs for voting “without requiring documents for which an elector must pay a fee to a government agency.”
With that proviso, the court found the photo ID law constitutional and “reasonably related to the State’s significant interests” in “protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process, maintain public confidence in election results and preventing voter fraud.”
In both cases, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who was appointed to the court in 1976 by former Democratic Gov. Patrick Lucey, wrote dissenting opinions. In the League of Women Voters case, which was decided by a 4-3 vote, she claimed, as have other opponents of voter ID laws, that Wisconsin’s law “brings the specter of Jim Crow front and center.” This is racial demagoguery of the worst kind.
This decision lifted the injunction that had been issued by a state circuit court. It does not affect another injunction issued by federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator. As I have previously written, Adelman refused to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, in which a majority of the Court upheld the constitutionality of an ID law in Indiana that was even stricter than Wisconsin’s law.
Wisconsin’s attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, has appealed that decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He hopes the state supreme court’s decisions will help him convince the appeals court to overturn Adelman’s decision, according to his spokeswoman, Dana Brueck.
Gov. Scott Walker (R), probably said it best. “Voter ID is a common-sense reform that protects the integrity of our elections,” he said in reaction to the decisions. “People need to have confidence in our electoral process and to know that their vote has been properly counted.”