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A Bad Voter ID Law is Put on Hold in Wisconsin

Anthony Kammer

Wisconsin State Court Judge David Flanagan issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday that will prevent Wisconsin’s controversial Voter ID law from going into effect prior to the state’s April 3 presidential primary. After noting in the order that the Wisconsin State Constitution recognizes voting as a guaranteed right, Judge Flanagan called the bill “the single most restrictive voter eligibility law in the United States.” 

The challenged provisions of Wisconsin Act 23 would have required that all voters display a drivers license or voter photo identification before being permitted to vote in any federal, state, or local elections. The bill, like the voter ID bills being pushed in Republican-controlled legislatures around the county, was purportedly designed to prevent voter fraud and maintain the accuracy and security of the ballot process. Judge Flanagan noted in his opinion that the Attorney General failed to introduce any evidence of fraud that would justify this interference with Wisconsin voters’ constitutional right to vote. 

[R]ecent investigations of vote irregularities, both in the City of Milwaukee and by the Attorney General have produced extremely little evidence of fraud and that which has been uncovered, improper use of absentee ballots and unqualified voters, would not have been prevented by the photo identification requirements of Act 23.

As Judge Flanagan explained in the order, the Wisconsin voter ID bill falters in several other respects as well. While the Act does not impose an explicit poll tax, the plaintiffs produced evidence from nineteen individuals who had to spend between $14 and $39.50 to obtain a certified copy of their birth certificate before being permitted to vote. Other individuals described the delays they encountered having to jump from government office to government office to obtain the necessary paperwork. 

“This is burdensome,” Judge Flanagan wrote, “all the more for the elderly and disabled.” The Court also heard evidence that there were, as of 2002, “some 221,975 constitutionally qualified voters in Wisconsin who do not possess a drivers license or voter photo identification.” The bill is most burdensome for individuals without these forms of identification, who unsurprisingly are disproportionately elderly, indigent, and members of racial minorities. Given that the Wisconsin State Constitution recognizes voting as a “sacred right,” these burdens were found to be substantial and unjustified by the facts.

University of Wisconsin School of BusinessWisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced the day after the order was issued that his office will be appealing the ruling. Wisconsin GOP members are also calling for an investigation of Judge Flanagan because he signed a recall petition against Governor Walker, a named defendant in the suit. Irrespective, the decision remains firmly rooted in Wisconsin state law.

The voter ID laws that have crept up since 2008 are more than just burdensome for voters or an attempt to solidify a partisan advantage. These bills are also fiscally wasteful. Voter identification costs financially-pinched states an enormous and unwarranted amount of money. Demos recently wrote a fact sheet outlining why the voter ID bill currently being considered in Virginia would be an expensive mistake with few benefits for taxpayers. 

As Talking Points Memo recently noted, voter ID legislation is a solution in search of problem. With states facing cuts to education and other public services, it’s outrageous that politicians think we need to waste tax dollars on blatant partisan manipulations that disenfranchise voters.