A controversial voter ID law in Wisconsin, which critics fear will disenfranchise thousands of voters in the November midterm elections, must be implemented after a federal appeals court turned down a request to re-hear a legal challenge. The seventh circuit court of appeals in Chicago declined to take up the application to hear the challenge before its full panel of judges. On 12 September, three judges stayed an injunction issued by a district court that had prevented the law’s implementation. With less than six weeks to go until the 4 November midterms, voter-rights advocates fear chaos as people rush to get the required identification, and confusion at the polls as election workers and voters struggle with the new rules. Previous testimony in the case indicated that about 300,000 people who had previously been eligible to vote will have difficulty obtaining the identification now needed to cast their ballots. The plaintiffs in the voter ID cases include Ruthelle Frank, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and the Advancement Project.
Friday’s order stated that the judges were divided on whether to re-hear the case. It also stated: “Chief Judge Wood and Judges Posner, Rovner, Williams and Hamilton voted to hear this matter en banc. In the coming days, members of the court may file opinions explaining their votes.” According to Wisconsin Public Radio, all five judges who rejected the request for a re-hearing were appointed by Republicans, as were two of the five who voted in favor of the petition.
Wisconsin’s gubernatorial election is a hotly contested struggle between the Republican incumbent, Scott Walker, whose 2011 budget proposal led to weeks of protests at the state capitol, and Democrat Mary Burke, formerly a top executive with the Trek bicycle company of Waterloo, Wisconsin.
Election law expert Rick Hasen, of the University of California-Irvine Law School, posted an analysis of the decision on his Election Law blog, suggesting the plaintiffs would likely head to the supreme court. He wrote: “This is a really egregious order changing the rules midstream in violation of the supreme court’s own admonition in the Purcell v Gonzalez case.”