From courtrooms to the streets, civil rights advocates and grassroots organizations nationwide are doubling down to protect voters. Over the past few years, we witnessed an aggressive assault on voting rights, with a wave of policies making it harder to vote either passed or proposed in a majority of states. These measures included laws requiring current state-issued photo ID to vote, cuts to early voting and same-day registration and “show me your papers” proof-of-citizenship practices. The unprecedented attacks on democracy disproportionately affect voters of color. They are widespread, targeted and coordinated. This week, Wisconsin is on trial for limiting the voices of voters. Advancement Project is challenging Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to present limited forms of government-issued photo ID in order to vote. We plan to show that Wisconsin’s law discriminates against voters on the basis of race. This is the nation’s first Voting Rights Act trial challenging a photo ID law since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which blocked the federal government from stopping discriminatory laws and practices by several states and counties, mostly in the South, before they are implemented.
In the aftermath of the Shelby decision, most national attention has focused on southern states with particularly egregious histories of disenfranchising voters of color, but Wisconsin and other states should not be overlooked. Wisconsin’s law stands to prevent hundreds of thousands of voters from casting their ballots, especially African-Americans and Latinos. Anyone who believes in equal access to the right to vote should pay close attention.
According to Wisconsin’s own data, more than 300,000 already-registered voters do not have either a driver’s license or state ID. African-American voters are 40 percent more likely than white voters to lack these forms of ID, while Latino voters are 2.3 times as likely. In order to obtain the required state-issued ID, in most instances a voter must present a certified birth certificate — a process that can involve the inconvenience of applying and paying for a Wisconsin birth certificate or, for those born outside the state, contacting government agencies in other states. For some voters, a birth certificate does not exist at all, particularly elderly African-Americans who were born at home at a time when it was not common practice to record Black births.