Ruthelle Frank, an 87-year-old resident of Brokaw, Wisconsin, has voted in every presidential election since 1948. But after the passage of Wisconsin’s voter-ID law in 2011, she became one of 300,000 registered voters in the state without the required ID. Frank was paralyzed on the left side of her body at birth and doesn’t have a driver’s license or birth certificate. Her name is misspelled in Wisconsin’s Register of Deeds, an error that would cost hundreds of dollars to correct. These circumstances led Frank to become the lead plaintiff in a challenge to Wisconsin’s voter-ID law. That law was blocked in state and federal court for the 2012 election and struck down in May 2014 following a full trial, only to be reinstated by a panel of Republican judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit less than two months before the 2014 election. The Supreme Court prevented the law from taking effect for the 2014 election, but only on a temporary basis. After the election, voting rights advocates asked the high court to consider the full merits of the case. Today, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal. As a result, Wisconsin’s voter-ID law—among the most restrictive in the country—will be allowed to go into effect.
In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter-ID law in Crawford v. Marion County. The Wisconsin case presented an opportunity for the Court to reconsider the issue. At the time of the Crawford decision, only two states—Indiana and Georgia—had passed voter ID laws and little was known about their impact. Since Crawford, seventeen states have passed voter ID laws—nine of them requiring strict forms of government-issued ID, like in Wisconsin—and much more is known about the burdens of such laws.