A federal judge said Thursday that opponents of more than a dozen new Wisconsin election laws had made a “pretty decent case” that Republicans approved them to secure a partisan advantage, but added he isn’t convinced the measures actually had a dramatic effect. U.S. District Judge James Peterson’s comments came in closing arguments of a lawsuit challenging the laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker since 2011. Peterson promised to rule by the end of July but has said that will be too late to affect the Aug. 9 primary for the field of candidates running for dozens of state and federal races will be narrowed before the Nov. 8 general election. An attorney for two liberal groups challenging the laws, including the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls, argued that they should be found unconstitutional and stopped from being enforced. But a state Department of Justice attorney said there was no evidence to support a wholesale undoing of the laws. “They’re going for the home run,” Assistant Attorney General Clay Kawski said. “They just haven’t shown that.”
The laws being challenged include provisions of the voter ID requirement, particularly the process used to grant free IDs to people who don’t have the required documentation, limitations on early voting times and places and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.
The judge said he didn’t “see anything powerful in either way” about what effect the laws have had on turnout. “I don’t see anything really compelling showing the voter ID law or any of the other changes had a powerful impact on any of the elections,” Peterson said.
He referenced comments from Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, made in an interview in April, that he thought the voter ID law would help Republicans in the November election. Peterson said he didn’t think the evidence showed it would help Republicans significantly, or that it would hurt Democrats as much as was argued.