ACLU Wins Battle Over Wisconsin Voter ID Law

     CHICAGO (CN) – Wisconsin may need to expand its voter ID law to accommodate voters who cannot get a state-issued photo ID due to name mismatches or other unusual circumstances, the Seventh Circuit ruled.
     Seventeen voters represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other state officials in 2011, challenging the state’s voter identification law.
     They argued that the law “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax for eligible Wisconsin voters” because of the fees required for some voters to get identification.
     Some voters claimed they will never be able to obtain acceptable identification documents, which include a Wisconsin driver’s license, a DMV-issued state ID card, a U.S. uniformed service ID card, a passport, a recent naturalization certificate or an unexpired identification card issued by an accredited Wisconsin university or college.
     The litigating voters sought an injunction “allowing persons to vote at their polling place without presenting an ID but instead by signing an affidavit attesting to their identity and to the difficulties they would face in obtaining ID,” according to court records.
     A Wisconsin appeals court upheld the legislation in 2013, finding that the requirement to show photo IDs at the polls does not violate the state’s constitution. After that, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the state can enforce the voter ID law during the November 2014 elections.
     Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the law in place.
     U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman denied a permanent injunction motion in October, ruling that Wisconsin “had to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable forms of ID somewhere.” He struck down claims related to technical college IDs, out-of-state driver’s licenses and veteran’s IDs.
     Plaintiffs narrowly appealed the decision, tailoring their argument to eligible voters unable to obtain acceptable photo ID because of name mismatches, voters who need a document that no longer exists (e.g. burned in a fire), or voters who need a credential from another agency, such as the Social Security Administration, that will not issue the credential without a valid photo ID, which the Wisconsin DMV will not issue without a Social Security card.
     Lead plaintiff Ruthelle Frank’s birth certificate has an improper spelling of her maiden name, and is therefore not an acceptable form of identification required to prove her citizenship at the DMV. The process to correct the birth certificate is lengthy and costly.
     The Seventh Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling on these narrow grounds.
     “The right to vote is personal and is not defeated by the fact that 99 percent of other people can secure the necessary credentials easily,” Judge Frank Easterbrook said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     The state cannot argue that plaintiffs forfeited their argument by not pleading it as a separate count in their complaint, because federal rules do not require plaintiffs to propose one count per legal theory, the seven-page opinion states.
     “Because the district court did not address the substance of plaintiffs’ argument, we do not do so either,” Easterbrook said, and remanded it to the lower court for further discovery.
     The panel noted that the state legislature has amended the law since the filing of this litigation to require election officials to accept veterans’ IDs, so that issue is now moot.
     Sean Young, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement, “The court ruled that eligible voters facing difficulty obtaining ID have the right to challenge Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law. This ruling gives them the chance to go back to the lower court to make their case. This is a victory for the voters of Wisconsin.”

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