MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The Wisconsin chapter of liberal advocacy group Common Cause filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against members of the state elections board over restrictions on college students using their campus IDs to vote.
In its 24-page complaint filed in Madison federal court, Common Cause Wisconsin alleges that “certain requirements for college and university student IDs to be used as voter ID in Wisconsin are unnecessary and irrational” and seeks to enjoin those requirements, noting that it does not intend to relitigate the facial constitutionality of the Badger State’s voter ID law.
Of particular focus in the lawsuit are the requirements that student IDs used for voting must have “an issuance date and expiration date not more than two years after the issuance date” and must have a student’s signature on it, and that students also have to show a separate proof of enrollment along with the ID.
The complaint states unequivocally that Wisconsin’s is the only voter ID law that requires a student ID to have a two-year life span, even if it is from a four-year institution, and it is the only law that requires students to show a separate proof of enrollment.
“Only two states – Wisconsin and Kentucky – reject student IDs if they lack a signature but Wisconsin’s is the only strict photographic ID law that does so,” the complaint states.
Thirty-five states have enacted voter identification statutes and 28 of them permit college and university students to use their campus ID as their photo ID, according to the complaint filed against members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Part of the problem the complaint outlines is that college students, often voting for the first time and often coming to Wisconsin institutions from out of state, are not aware of state voter ID requirements until it is too late, barring or discouraging them from voting.
The lawsuit says that oftentimes “schools either fail to inform or inadequately inform their students of the requirement to obtain a special student voter ID card” and that “students who lack other forms of accepted voter ID are deprived of their right to vote unless they obtain a different, compliant student ID card that…some but not all Wisconsin colleges and universities offer upon request at designated sites on campus.”
Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck stated Tuesday that “when the Wisconsin voter ID law was passed” back in 2011, “it was one of the most restrictive in the country.”
Heck said that Common Cause’s lawsuit is not intended to overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law, but only to “end some confusion” and “take away some road blocks” that he says have been shown to frustrate students, needlessly confuse them about whether they are eligible to vote, or prevent them from voting altogether.
The requirements for an issuance date, expiration date and student signature are problematic due to the fact that, according to the complaint, many of the student IDs issued by Wisconsin schools do not have those details.
Common Cause Wisconsin states that the only four-year institutions in the University of Wisconsin system that automatically issue a voter ID law-compliant student ID to all incoming students upon enrollment are Eau Claire, Green Bay, Madison, Stout and Superior. The rest only issue those IDs upon request at specific spots on campus.
The complaint also notes that the signature requirement does not make sense because the voter ID law does not require poll workers to verify an ID signature against the signature voters are required to put in the poll book. It also points out that many other valid forms of ID do not have signatures and the poll book signature is the only signature that gets compared to voter registration form signatures to detect potential voter fraud.
“Therefore, requiring a signature on a voter ID serves no function and lacks a rational basis,” the lawsuit states.
Common Cause Wisconsin asks the court to strike down these requirements as an unconstitutional infringement on voters’ Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission said it does not comment on pending legal matters.
In January, U.S. District Judge James Peterson enjoined new voting restrictions, including those having to do with IDs and early voting, that were part of lame-duck legislation passed during a GOP-engineered extraordinary floor session in December.
The ruling echoed Judge Peterson’s previous 2016 injunction he handed down after One Wisconsin Institute sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission over voting laws.
When both sides appealed, that case was sent to the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit, where it remains today.
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