Federal Judge Rejects Wisconsin's Voter ID Law

A federal judge has ruled against Wisconsin's Voter ID law. 

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A federal judge has ruled against Wisconsin's Voter ID law on Tuesday, finding that the rule places "a unique and heightened burden on those who must obtain an ID if they wish to continue voting in Wisconsin," a population that is disproportionately composed of poor and minority voters. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote in her decision that the law violates the constitution's equal protection provisions.

Wisconsin's law, put on the books by Republican lawmakers in the state, is part of a wider push by conservatives to enact restrictions on voters in the name of combatting voter fraud. Three years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin's version of the voter ID bill into law. Among other things, it requires voters to show a photo ID before voting in elections. But there's a problem: those restrictions make it harder to vote for those who are less likely to obtain the approved forms of identification. And typically, that disproportionally means poor and minority residents, who just happen to lean Democratic.

Adelman addressed the state's argument that the provision was needed to combat voter fraud by insinuating that the threat of voter fraud might not be as real as the state is arguing (emphasis ours):

In the present case, no evidence suggests that voter-impersonation fraud will become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future. As the plaintiffs’ unrebutted evidence shows, a person would have to be insane to commit voter- impersonation fraud. The potential costs of perpetrating the fraud, which include a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment, are extremely high in comparison to the potential benefits, which would be nothing more than one additional vote for a preferred candidate (or one fewer vote for an opposing candidate), a vote which is unlikely to change the election’s outcome. 

Since Walker signed the bill into law, it's been the subject of four separate legal challenges in the courts. In March, a Wisconsin judge ruled against the law, with a sternly-worded decision that concludes "voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression." Weeks before that, another judge temporarily blocked the state from enacting it during an April 3 primary there. Thanks to those court challenges, the Wisconsin law has been in effect for just one single election in the past three years: a 2012 primary. After that, it's been consistently blocked from enforcement, the AP notes. The state court cases are awaiting a decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Proponents of voter ID laws have argued that the measures are designed to protect against voter fraud. Fifteen states have similar laws on the books. In a few states, including Arkansas and Pennsylvania, judges have recently found that the laws are unconstitutional.

Here's the full decision:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.