A legal challenge to Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law – the first trial challenging a voter ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, since the June 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder – concluded on Friday, November 15. During the two-week trial, attorneys from Advancement Project and pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter showed that Wisconsin’s photo ID law would exclude hundreds of thousands of eligible Wisconsin voters who do not have state-issued photo ID from voting, and that African-American and Latino voters disproportionately lack the ID needed to vote under the law. “The bedrock of our case is the statistical disparity in who has access to the kinds of ID voters need to vote under the Wisconsin law,” said James Eichner, Managing Director for Programs at the Advancement Project. “Statewide, African Americans are 40 percent more likely to lack an ID, and Latinos are 230 percent more likely not to have ID.” Voter ID laws have been introduced in 24 states across the country this year, despite the fact that people of color, seniors, young people and low-income communities are less likely to have government-issued photo ID. In many cases, obtaining an ID can be difficult, costly and sometimes impossible. In order to get a state-issued ID, for example, most voters must present a birth certificate or, for those born outside Wisconsin, contact government agencies in other states.
For some voters, particularly elderly African- Americans who were born at home in the rural South, a birth certificate does not exist at all. In addition, the law creates the burden of getting ID from limited Wisconsin DMV offices which, with the exception of one, are only open on weekdays and mostly only until 4:30 p.m., requiring voters to take time off from work.
More than twenty witnesses were presented at trial, many of whom testified about their inability to obtain ID, or the extreme measures they were forced to take in order to get it. Powerful testimony came from Ms. Lorene Hutchins, a 93-year-old former poll worker. Hutchins, who was born at her family’s home in Mississippi, did not have the birth certificate required to get an ID for voting. Only after the persistent and steadfast efforts of her daughter – who assisted Ms. Hutchins throughout the process, spending more than $2,000 in costs and legal fees – was she able to finally get a birth certificate and reclaim her right to vote.