The Supreme Court on Thursday evening stopped officials in Wisconsin from requiring voters there to provide photo identification before casting their ballots in the coming election. Three of the court’s more conservative members dissented, saying they would have allowed officials to require identification. Around the same time, a federal trial court in Texas struck down that state’s ID law, saying it put a disproportionate burden on minority voters. The Wisconsin requirement, one of the strictest in the nation, is part of a state law enacted in 2011 but mostly blocked by various courts in the interim. A federal trial judge had blocked it, saying it would “deter or prevent a substantial number of the 300,000-plus registered voters who lack ID from voting” and would disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters. The law was provisionally reinstated last month by a unanimous three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Chicago hours after it heard arguments. The full court was deadlocked, five to five, on a request for a new hearing. “It is simply impossible, as a matter of common sense and of logistics, that hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters will both learn about the need for photo identification and obtain the requisite identification in the next 36 days,” the appeals court judges opposed to the requirement wrote.
The three-judge panel upheld the law on Monday, reasoning that it was similar to one from Indiana that the Supreme Court upheld in 2008.
The challengers to the Wisconsin law asked the Supreme Court to block the voter identification requirement for now, saying it would “virtually guarantee chaos at the polls.” Whatever the legality, they said, the state cannot issue enough IDs and train enough poll workers before the November election.
The law requires absentee voters to submit identification. But forms sent before the appeals court acted did not include that requirement. State officials had said they would not count ballots returned without copies of valid ID.
The officials argued that voters knew of the appeals court’s ruling and that blocking it would cause confusion. “Voters would get the pinball treatment,” they wrote. They told the justices that opponents “legitimately raise issues regarding absentee ballots,” but that local election officials were trying to inform voters that they might have to take more steps for their votes to be counted.