Federal appeals court reinstates Wisconsin voter identification law
CHICAGO -- A federal appeals court in Chicago on Friday reinstated for now Wisconsin's voter ID law hours after the three-judge panel heard arguments on the subject.
CHICAGO - A federal appeals court in Chicago on Friday reinstated for now Wisconsin’s voter ID law hours after the three-judge panel heard arguments on the subject.
The move by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals clears the way for the state to implement the law for the Nov. 4 election, though it does not stop the ongoing appeal over whether the measure is unconstitutional.
“The state of Wisconsin may, if it wishes (and if it is appropriate under rules of state law), enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections,” the unsigned two-page order reads.
The appellate court said Friday that it was satisfied by changes imposed on the law by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a separate decision earlier this year.
The head of the state’s election agency said Friday he would do everything possible to get the law back in place in time for the election - something agency officials previously said would be a challenge.
“We are taking every step to fully implement the voter photo ID law for the November general election. We are now focused on communicating with local election officials and voters, and will have more information about the details next week,” said Kevin Kennedy, director of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
Attorneys representing groups that successfully sued over Wisconsin’s voter ID law came in for tough questioning Friday before a federal appeals panel, with Judge Diane Sykes saying they had won “a whopper” of a remedy at trial and questioning why the law shouldn’t be put in place for the Nov. 4 election.
“We are on the eve of an election,” Sykes said.
After the hourlong arguments, attorneys for those suing over the voter ID law told reporters it would be irresponsible for the court to put the law in place for this fall. They said no court had ever put a voter ID law into effect so near an election.
“A court can do whatever it wants, but I think it would be extremely irresponsible for a court to do something that would so change the landscape not only for the (state Division of Motor Vehicles) but for election officials,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.
The case was heard by Sykes and two other judges on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Frank Easterbrook and John Tinder. Sykes is a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush. Easterbrook was appointed to the appeals court by President Ronald Reagan and Tinder was appointed by Bush.
Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature in 2011 approved the law, which requires people to show poll workers certain types of photo identification to vote.
The requirement was in effect for a low-turnout primary in February 2012 but soon after was blocked by a series of orders by judges in four lawsuits, two in state court and two in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee heard the two federal cases together. This April, he ruled the voter ID law placed an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and violated the federal Voting Rights Act because minorities are less likely than whites to have IDs.
Adelman found some 300,000 people in Wisconsin do not have IDs and determined requiring people to show IDs at the polls would discount far more legitimate votes than fraudulent ones. He concluded voter impersonation - the only kind of fraud the voter ID law would curb - is essentially nonexistent, noting state officials could not cite any examples of it.
But Sykes said Adelman’s findings are “hard to reconcile” with a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law. Easterbrook also questioned how Adelman could render his ruling in light of that decision.
“He took evidence and found the Supreme Court was wrong,” Easterbrook said.
The judges did not say how soon they would render a decision or if they would act on the state’s request to take the unusual step of reinstating the law by the end of the day. Under state law, clerks must mail absentee ballots by Thursday to people who have already requested them. If the voter ID law is in place for this election, most absentee voters will need to mail in photocopies of their IDs along with their ballots.
According to the Accountability Board, at least 11,815 absentee ballots have already been mailed, and those did not come with instructions telling voters they might need to provide copies of their IDs. That point did not come up in court Friday.