With a competitive election for governor of Wisconsin less than six weeks away, a federal appeals court on Friday narrowly decided against hearing arguments on a recently instituted photo identification requirement for the state’s voters. In an order that evenly split the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit here, the judges turned down pleas for a hearing by the full court from people who argue that the requirement has created confusion and chaos. The decision came about a month before in-person early voting begins and after some in Wisconsin may have mailed in absentee ballots. The matter could ultimately wind up before the United States Supreme Court, and the Wisconsin case is seen as noteworthy among the numerous legal fights playing out around the country over voting regulations. Many of the regulations have been introduced in the last four years in states with Republican-dominated governments, like Wisconsin.
Voting officials and clerks in Wisconsin have been racing to prepare voters and poll-watchers for the identification requirement since a three-member panel of the Seventh Circuit court decided on Sept. 12 that the law, delayed for more than two years, could take effect immediately.
Municipal clerks said they were fielding questions from puzzled voters. Various efforts to publicize the new rules, including a website, an online seminar for clerks, and radio and television ads, are underway. And clerks have been advised to contact some absentee voters who already received their ballots in the mail but are now required to provide copies of their identification.
Complicating matters, Wisconsin has a highly decentralized voting system — nearly 2,000 clerks around the state handle elections — and the race between Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, and Mary Burke, a Democrat, is expected to draw a significant turnout on Nov. 4 among the state’s 3.4 million registered voters.