Whenever people say that strict voter-ID laws don’t disenfranchise eligible voters, I tell them the story of Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., whom I’ve written about before for The Nation. Holloway, a 58-year-old African-American man, moved from Illinois to Wisconsin in 2008 and voted without problems, until Wisconsin passed its voter-ID law in 2011. He brought his expired Illinois photo ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card to get a photo ID for voting, but the DMV rejected his application because his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway,” the result of a clerical error. After being told it would cost between $400 and $600 to fix his birth certificate at the Vital Records System in Milwaukee, Holloway spent $200 on a bus ticket to Illinois to try to amend his birth certificate. He made seven trips to government agencies in two different states, but he still couldn’t vote in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary. Today a federal district court in Wisconsin delivered a major victory for voters like Holloway, ruling that those who are unable to obtain a voter-ID in Wisconsin can instead vote by signing an affidavit. The preliminary injunction in a challenge brought by the ACLU protects the voting rights of thousands of Wisconsinites who faced disenfranchisement in November.
Nine percent of registered voters in Wisconsin, 9 percent of the electorate, lacked a government-issued ID when the law was passed. “Although most voters in Wisconsin either possess qualifying ID or can easily obtain one, a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort,” wrote Judge Lynn Adelman. “Because there are likely thousands of eligible voters in Wisconsin who lack qualifying ID, it is virtually self-evident that some of them will either need to exercise extraordinary effort to obtain qualifying ID or be unable to obtain ID no matter how hard they try.”
The implementation of Wisconsin’s voter-ID law has been a disaster. The state provided no money to educate the public and dismantled the non-partisan agency tasked with overseeing Wisconsin’s elections. As of last month, the state’s DMV had rejected nearly a fifth of all applicants for a voter ID, 85 percent of whom were African American, Latino, or Native American.