An attorney challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law, the strictest in the nation, called it a voter suppression law, a “troubling blend of race and politics.” John Ulin noted that the law passed in 2011 over the objection of every African-American and Latino legislator, and he argued it has had a disproportionate negative impact on voters from those ethnic groups, in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ulin spoke Friday during closing arguments in the non-jury trial of two lawsuits challenging the law, called Act 23. Eight days of testimony featured social scientists, bureaucrats and frustrated plaintiffs. Assistant Attorney General Clayton Kawski said the state had a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of the electoral process and stopping fraud, and that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of proof to overturn the law. Kawski called the many plaintiffs’ stories about their troubles and costs of trying to obtain qualifying photo ID unique, uncommon, bizarre and one-of-a-kind exceptions to the 90% of the population who have an ID to vote. Kawski also noted that most of the plaintiffs did ultimately get identification and even the three who don’t have an ID might still get it.
A judge in a different case enjoined the photo ID requirement of the law in March 2012. The federal suits hope to stop it from ever taking effect.
The plaintiffs showed that tens to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents lack one of the qualifying IDs, and many also lack the documents required to get the free ID the state supplies for voting — usually a birth certificate.
The witnesses detailed how they sometimes had to travel to other states to try to get certificates. Some voters, born in the South decades ago, never had formal birth certificates. In Wisconsin, the Vital Records division sometimes required a photo ID to get a birth certificate, a kind of Catch 22.
As evidence that the law was providing ways for everyone to vote, Kawski noted that since Wisconsin began offering its free ID service, more than 217,000 have been issued, and in Milwaukee County mostly to minorities.
But plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the numbers prove the disparity, that far fewer minorities have driver’s licenses, passports or the other limited forms of ID that would allow someone to vote.