Appeals court upholds Wisconsin voter ID law

A three judge panel upheld the constitutionality of Wisconsin's voter ID statutue, clearing the way for the law to be implemented in time for the November 4 election.

The unanimous ruling is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.


The panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last month ruled the voter ID law could be put in place for the Nov. 4 election between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democrat Mary Burke. Monday's ruling is the panel's final decision on the issue and puts the voter ID law in place for other future elections.

Attention now turns to what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan or the full Supreme Court might do. Even before Monday's ruling, the groups that challenged the voter ID law had asked Kagan to block the voter ID law for the Nov. 4 election.

Kagan is the justice responsible for handling emergency petitions in cases before the 7th Circuit, which covers Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Writing for the unanimous appeals panel, Judge Frank Easterbrook determined Wisconsin's law was essentially identical to an Indiana voter ID law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2008.

Even if voter impersonation is rare, the Supreme Court found a voter ID law has other benefits, Easterbrook wrote — "it deters fraud (so that a low frequency stays low); it promotes accurate record keeping (so that people who have moved after the date of registration do not vote in the wrong precinct); it promotes voter confidence.

"If the public thinks that photo ID makes elections cleaner, then people are more likely to vote or, if they stay home, to place more confidence in the outcomes."

Also on the panel were Diane Sykes and John Daniel Tinder. Easterbrook was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Sykes and Tinder were appointed by President George W. Bush. Before serving on the federal bench, Sykes was a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.

The panel's decision addresses two challenges brought by several individuals and groups, who were assisted in the litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project.

"This ruling is of little surprise, given the panel's previous order," said a statement from Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's voting rights project. "The voters of Wisconsin deserve every opportunity to cast their ballot free of the obstacles imposed by this law, and we are evaluating our next step."

The Government Accountability Board, who oversee elections in the state, wants to run an ad campaign informing voters that they need ID in order to vote. The top two Republicans on the Finance Committee also want to see the ads run. Groups will still cry "voter supression" despite the small number of potential voters who choose not to get an ID to vote.

Anti-photo ID groups tried to bamboozle the court with fake numbers of those who would be unable to vote.

It dismissed Adelman's conclusions about the Voting Rights Act, saying minorities have the same opportunities to get IDs as whites, even if they don't wind up securing IDs at the same rate.

"Unless Wisconsin makes it needlessly hard to get photo ID, it has not denied anything to any voter," Easterbrook wrote.

Relying on the testimony of an expert, Adelman concluded about 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin do not have IDs that qualify for voting. About 70,000 additional people who lack such IDs are eligible to vote but not registered, he found.

But the appeals judges determined those figures were "questionable."

"The district judge who tried the Indiana case rejected a large estimate as fanciful in a world in which photo ID is essential to board an airplane, enter Canada or any other foreign nation, drive a car (even people who do not own cars need licenses to drive friends' or relatives' cars), buy a beer, purchase pseudoephedrine for a stuffy nose or pick up a prescription at a pharmacy, open a bank account or cash a check at a currency exchange, buy a gun, or enter a courthouse to serve as a juror or watch the argument of this appeal," Easterbrook wrote. "Could 9% of Wisconsin's voting population really do none of these things?"

Voter ID laws have been under attack around the country, but opponents have not been very successful in eliminating them,. As long as the law makes it simple and cheap to get an ID, the anti-ID forces don't have a leg to stand on.

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