A member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority said Tuesday she’s troubled by the state’s voter photo ID requirements, saying it’s not fair that people who lack identification may have to pay for supporting documents to obtain it. The League of Women Voters and the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch have filed separate lawsuits challenging the Republican-authored voter ID mandate. Both cases have wound their way to the Supreme Court; the justices spent more than three hours listening to oral arguments in a packed hearing room Tuesday. The lawsuits face an uphill fight given the court’s ideological makeup. Surprisingly, though, Justice Patience Roggensack said the provisions were troubling because people who lack acceptable IDs for voting would have to pay for copies of supporting documents, such as birth certificates, to get them. “It’s still a payment to the state to be able to vote,” Roggensack said. “That bothers me.”
The justices mused about whether they could erase fees for copies of birth certificates and other records, but Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, part of the court’s two-justice liberal minority, said that wouldn’t go far enough to help Wisconsin voters who were born out of state.
It’s difficult to draw conclusions about how the court might ultimately rule from the justices’ statements; they often play devil’s advocate during oral arguments.
The photo identification law has been a bitter bone of contention since GOP lawmakers put it into place in 2011. Republicans argue the measure will help fight voter fraud; Democrats counter widespread fraud doesn’t exist in Wisconsin and the requirement will keep poor people, immigrants and senior citizens from voting.
The league’s attorney, Lester Pines, told the justices Tuesday that lawmakers have no authority to force voters to meet qualifications beyond age and residency requirements set out in the constitution.
“This law says everyone in this state must have the government verify who they are,” Pines said. “The problem is that this ‘papers, please’ law requires additional qualifications beyond what is required by the constitution.”