Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen are asking a federal appeals court to reinstate Wisconsin’s voter ID law immediately after the court hears oral arguments on Sept. 12 so that it would be in pace for the November election. We think that would be a mistake — first, because the law isn’t needed and second, because a ruling so close to the election may not leave enough time to effectively implement the law, resulting in confusion at the polls. That serves no one any good. Better to leave things as they are for now, and let voters go to the polls with no worries about whether they’ll need an ID. We’ve made the point before, but we’ll make it here again: Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem. There have been very few cases of voter impersonation in Wisconsin, the kind of fraud that a voter ID would prevent. At the same time, numerous groups have testified about the difficulty some people — mainly, minorities, the elderly and students — would have in obtaining an ID.
The 2011 law approved by a Republican Legislature seems aimed at discouraging certain voting groups from going to the polls — groups that often vote Democratic. Voting is a fundamental right. It should be encouraged, not discouraged or limited. Voter ID discourages voting. Although the law was upheld by the state Supreme Court last month, our hope is that the law will fail its next legal test at the federal appeals court.
But even if the appeals court agrees with the Wisconsin court, the timing issue still matters. The federal court has said that it won’t rule on reinstating the voter ID law until at least Sept. 12, which is about the time that absentee ballots will be mailed out. The Journal Sentinel reported Monday that when county clerks send out absentee ballots, the clerks will need to inform recipients whether they need to include copies of their IDs for their votes to count. Poll workers also would need to be trained soon on the voter ID requirements, according to the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections.