Wisconsin’s voter ID law is again being challenged, this time in federal court. It’s the only active federal challenge of a photo ID law, say representatives of the national and state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, who are bringing the lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin federal court, seeks an injunction against enforcement of the voter ID law, which takes full effect on Feb. 21, 2012 for Wisconsin’s spring primary elections.
“The photo ID law imposes a severe and undue burden on the fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; violates the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteen Amendments to the United States Constitution as an unconstitutional poll tax; and violates the Equal Protection Clause o the Fourteenth Amendment in arbitrarily refusing to accept certain identification documents,” the December 13 complaint (PDF) states.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network filed suit in October against Wisconsin’s law in state court, and the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is also expected to file a state challenge this week.
Under Wisconsin’s voter ID law, voters need to present a photo ID at the polls. The ACLU lawsuit argues that many residents, including seniors, minorities and veterans, do not have acceptable forms of photo ID. Other forms of photo identification, including student IDs, will not be accepted at the polls. Requiring only certain types of government-issued photo IDs imposes a burden on the right to vote and effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax, the lawyers argue.
“The state of Wisconsin has created a voter ID system that is making it very hard or impossible for residents to exercise their cherished right to vote,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, in a news release.
“This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the United States Constitution.”
The lawsuit argues the new law will also negatively affect homeless voters, many of whom do not have photo identification. “Protecting homeless persons’ right to vote is crucial, since voting is one of the few ways that homeless individuals can impact the political process and make their voices heard,” Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said. “By limiting participation to Wisconsin residents with photo identification, this law effectively silences homeless persons’ voices. With homelessness rising by 12 percent in Wisconsin since the recession began, we cannot allow the state to set this dangerous and unconscionable precedent.”