The Right Wing

Scott Walker, ALEC and RNC Lies Unmasked In Court Ruling Tossing Wisconsin's Tough New Voter ID Law

No sane person would commit voter fraud, the federal judge said.

Protesters outside the Wisconsin Statehouse when GOP Gov. Scott Walker attacked public sector unions. In 2013, the state's GOP passed a harsh voter ID law that was ruled unconstitutional in federal court on Tuesday.
Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) AAraujo

The political fraud of policing the polls to prevent likely Democratic voters from casting ballots was unmasked by a federal judge in Wisconsin on Tuesday, who struck down that state’s tougher new voter ID law in one of the most forceful federal court rulings of 2014 upholding voting rights.   

Federal Judge Lynn Adelman found that Wisconsin’s tougher voter ID law, a pet project of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his right-wing legislative allies, was not only an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote. It also violated Section 2 of the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act based on the its "disproportionate racial impact and discriminatory result" of depriving "the right of Black and Latino citizens to vote on account of race or color."

Wisconsin Republicans, led by Gov. Scott Walker—a 2016 presidential aspirant—said they would appeal. But they will face a very high legal bar to overturn Adelman’s ruling, which was unflinching in its defense of all voters. It's also unlikely an appeal would be resolved before 2014's elections, meaning the law would not be in effect for November's vote

Judge Adelman held that Wisconsin's 2011 Act 23, which narrowed the form of ID required to get a ballot on Election Day, violated the U.S. Constitution by imposing burdens on the voting rights of nearly 300,000 Wisconsin citizens who lack ID -- roughly 9 percent of Wisconsin voters. That outweighed the state’s declared interest in stopping a statistically insignificant rate of voter "fraud."

That finding, together with affirming that the 1965 Voting Rights Act still was a potent anti-discrimination tool—after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a major section of the law in 2013—make the ruling significant on a national level. It cuts to the heart of the debate over voter ID, highlighting the absolute lack of fraud that might justify stricter voter ID laws, and citing extensive testimony showing the very real impact that new polling place policing would have on otherwise eligible voters, many of whom are people of color.

The only type of fraud the voter ID law would prevent is voter impersonation, yet "virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future," Adelman wrote. "A person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud."

The GOP War On Non-White Voters

Many of the legitimate votes potentially blocked by Act 23, had the law been upheld, would have been people of color.

Judge Adelman found that Wisconsin's voter ID law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This is the first decision finding a voter ID law violates Section 2, which prohibits states from imposing a voting restriction that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Citing extensive evidence that African-American and Latino voters in Wisconsin were between 1.4 times and 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack a driver's license or photo ID, Judge Adelman found that Act 23 creates a situation "in which a disproportionate share of the Black and Latino populations must shoulder an additional burden in order to exercise the right to vote."

When Republicans passed Wisconsin's restrictive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-inspired legislation in 2011, evidence of the legislation's disproportionate impact on people of color was apparent, and the lack of documented evidence of voter fraud in the state was equally apparent. Yet they pushed forward nonetheless -- and in the wake of court challenges to the legislation, Gov. Walker and Assembly Majority Leader Robin Vos (until recently the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin) have vowed to call a special session to pass another version of the law.

Yet Judge Adelman noted in his decision that "it is difficult to see how an amendment to the photo ID requirement could remove its disproportionate racial impact and discriminatory result."

Rebuking Right-Wing Voting Vigilante Groups

The decision also contains powerful language countering claims from voter fraud hucksters like True the Vote and politicians like Walker and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who have claimed that voter fraud is rampant in Wisconsin and can account for one or two percentage points in Wisconsin elections. Based on extensive evidence and expert testimony, Judge Adelman refuted those claims.

"[C]ases of potential voter-impersonation fraud occur so infrequently that no rational person familiar with the relevant facts could be concerned about them," Judge Adelman wrote. Given that the severe penalties for voter impersonation "are extremely high in comparison to the potential benefits" of one additional vote for a candidate, he wrote, "a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud."

Experts testified that voter ID restrictions do nothing to promote public confidence in the electoral process. In fact, Judge Adelman noted, the way that politicians and right-wing news outlets promote voter ID can actually have the opposite effect, by "creat[ing] the false perception that voter-impersonation fraud is widespread, thereby needlessly undermining the public’s confidence in the electoral process."

“Perhaps the reason why photo ID requirements have no effect on confidence or trust in the electoral process is that such laws undermine the public’s confidence in the electoral process as much as they promote it,” Judge Adelman wrote.

The Judge said that low-income people face barriers to obtaining specific government-issued forms of ID.

"[T]he reason Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to lack an ID," Judge Adelman wrote, is because in Wisconsin "they are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, which in turn is traceable to the effects of discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and housing."

Wisconsin Discrimination Explained

The judge noted that Milwaukee (where the greatest number of Wisconsin's people of color live) is one of the most highly segregated cities in the country. He referenced "one study of the Milwaukee labor market, conducted in the early 2000s, which showed that white job applicants received call-back interviews more than twice as frequently as Black applicants, and that even white applicants with criminal records received call-back interviews more frequently than Black applicants."

Wisconsinites who don't have the forms of ID required under the law faced a complicated, costly, and time-consuming process to obtain the necessary identification, burdens that are more substantial for those with lower incomes than middle- and upper-class citizens. For example, 90 of the 92 Department of Motor Vehicle offices in the state close before 5:00pm, so a person must take time off from work, often foregoing pay, in order to get an ID. Many eligible voters must visit multiple government offices to gather necessary documents like birth certificates, requiring even more time off work. Because those without ID don't drive, they often rely on public transport, which in many cases won't go to the necessary agencies. 

Studies show that "even small increases in the costs of voting can deter a person from voting, since the benefits of voting are slight," so these burdens, which disproportionately affect people of color, can have the effect of suppressing the vote.

Wisconsin Voting Rights Activists React

"We are pleased the court ruled on the side of protecting every American's right to vote," said Mike Wilder, co-chair of the Wisconsin African-American Roundtable. "At a time when Big Money and other cheaters are trying to hijack our democracy, it's important we remove the barriers to voting. We need every voice heard for a real democracy."

Wisconsin's GOP establishment quickly reacted by saying that they would appeal the ruling. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen vowed to do so at the 7th Circuit. However, because the ruling has broken new ground, its fate on appeal is an open question -- although the appeal does become more interesting given that it could appear before 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who last December expressed regret for an earlier decision upholding Indiana's voter ID law.

Judge Adelman's decision adds a federal layer to Wisconsin's contentious voter ID battles. A state court blocked the law in 2012 for violating the Wisconsin constitution (three other courts have done the same, most recently in Arkansas.) An appeal of that state court decision was argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court earlier this year. However, even if the Wisconsin Supreme Court were to uphold the law, it would remain blocked thanks to Judge Adelman's ruling.

Given the timeline for an appeal of the federal decision, it appears unlikely that voter ID will be in effect for the 2014 elections.

 

Brendan Fischer is general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch.

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