The legal fight over Wisconsin’s photo ID voting requirement put it back in the political spotlight this month, with the state a key front in the national battle surrounding such laws. Here and elsewhere, the courtroom struggle stems from photo ID and other voting changes enacted by Republican legislators and governors in the last five years. Many, including Wisconsin’s, take effect in a presidential election for the first time this November. A nine-day court trial of the Wisconsin legal challenge concluded Thursday in federal court in Madison, and a forthcoming ruling in that case could decide how voter ID affects the state’s 2016 general election. The outcome of that and another lawsuit also could influence the national back-and-forth on voter ID. For now, how those challenges will be resolved is a big unknown for an election with high stakes.
“There are real voters voting under these laws,” said Jennifer Clark of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has opposed voter ID. “Right now it’s pretty unsettled what they will face when they head to the polls.”
The fight is over how stringent voter ID laws may be in places such as Wisconsin, home to one of the nation’s toughest ID requirements. It centers on potential voters who lack ID cards and either cannot get them or face extraordinary burdens to do so. If a judge order changes to the law, such people could be permitted to circumvent the ID requirement by signing sworn documents or other measures.
Judge James D. Peterson indicated Thursday that he expects to rule by the end of July in the case, which was brought by liberal groups such as One Wisconsin Institute and individuals claiming harm under voter ID and other laws. Peterson said his decision won’t trigger any change to state voting laws before the Aug. 9 primary.