Monday, March 12, 2012

Wisconsin Voter Photo ID Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Dane County Wisconsin Circuit Judge Richard Niess today declared that state's new voter photo ID law unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction blocking the state from implementing that law. Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the voter photo ID bill into law in May 2011, saying it is a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin."

"Without question, where it exists, voter fraud corrupts elections and undermines our form of government," wrote Judge Niess in his decision. "The legislature and governor may certainly take aggressive action to prevent its occurrence. But voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression. Indeed, they are two heads on the monster."

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network filed suit in Dane County Circuit Court last October on the grounds the Wisc. voter photo ID law violates the provision in the Wisconsin state constitution that determines who can vote. Judge Niess agreed with that argument:

In his 12-page ruling on the League of Women Voters plaintiff motion for summary judgment, Judge Niess found that the voter photo ID law (Act 23) violates the Wisc. Constitution's Article III, which guarantees the right to vote to all state residents who are 18 and over (Section 1) other than in cases where the legislature may place restrictions on convicted felons and those adjudicated to be incompetent (Section 2).

Article III is unambiguous, and means exactly what it says. It creates both necessary and sufficient requirements for qualified voters. Every United States citizen 18 years of age or older who resides in an election district in Wisconsin is a qualified elector in that district, unless excluded by duly enacted laws barring certain convicted felons or adjudicated incompetents/partially incompetents.

The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses those qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily-created qualifications not contained in Article III, such as a photo ID. He added that a "government that undermines the very foundation of its existence - the people's inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote - imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people."

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen (R) he plans to appeal the decision. The Dane County Circuit Court decision comes less than a week after another judge temporarily halted the implementation of the voter ID law.

Last December, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty filed a federal lawsuit charging that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of their basic right to vote:

“This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the Constitution.”

The ACLU complaint says that allowing only certain types of photo ID imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It also states that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax. The lawsuit was filed the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to speak about the importance of ensuring equal access to the ballot box.

“The state of Wisconsin has created a voter ID system that is making it very hard or impossible for residents to exercise their cherished right to vote,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Countless Wisconsin residents, including veterans, minority voters and seniors who have been voting for decades, will be turned away from the polls under this law’s restrictive photo ID requirements. Our lawsuit aims to block this unconstitutional law so that Wisconsin can continue its proud tradition of high participation in elections.”

The law will also have a severe impact on homeless voters, many of whom do not have photo identification.

“Protecting homeless persons’ right to vote is crucial, since voting is one of the few ways that homeless individuals can impact the political process and make their voices heard,” said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “By limiting participation to Wisconsin residents with photo identification, this law effectively silences homeless persons’ voices. With homelessness rising by 12 percent in Wisconsin since the recession began, we cannot allow the state to set this dangerous and unconscionable precedent.”

The ACLU and the Law Center filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of 17 eligible Wisconsin voters who may not be able to vote under the law.

No comments:

Post a Comment