After Tuesday’s court ruling that the Republican-sponsored voter ID law in Wisconsin was going to prevent more real votes than fraudulent votes from being cast, Republicans who insist on pushing more states to adopt these overreaching laws are going to have to do some serious mental gymnastics to convince anyone that voter impersonation is a real issue, let alone a big enough problem to affect any election. US District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the law, passed by the state’s Republican legislature and signed by Governor Scott Walker in May 2011, places an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and violates the Voting Rights Act because of its disproportionate effects on black and Latino voters. Judge Adelman agreed with the main point that voter ID opponents have long argued: there is virtually no voter impersonation – despite claims like that of State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who told the Green Bay Press Gazette “We continue to see these isolated incidents of people trying to vote five, six times a day; people voting based on some sort of fraudulent documentation that’s offered.” Additionally, Adelman ruled that whatever voter impersonation does occur does not justify the potential infringement on citizens’ voting rights. “It is,” Adelman wrote, “absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.” He added: The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.
It’s worth noting that nearly all of the complaints cited by the state in its justification for the law and legal arguments were later discovered to be inadvertent errors by polling place staff. Nationwide, a 2012 NBC News investigation discovered that voter impersonation – the problem that Voter ID laws are supposed to remedy – was prosecuted only ten times in the twelve-year period studied.
Adelman also found that it is quite likely that those voters who lacked a state-issued ID also lacked the documents (like birth certificates) required to get those “free” IDs – especially black and Latino voters – and that the working poor, students, those without personal transportation, and the elderly would face other obstacles in any effort to obtain the required ID. All in all, of the 300,000 people who lacked the new IDs the government would require, Adelman found that “a substantial number … will be deterred from voting.”
Though Walker once promised to call the legislature back into special session if the courts ruled against the law to try and modify it, the political dynamics – and Walker’s ability to push his agenda through a friendly legislature – have shifted, making it less likely that the legislature will rubber-stamp his improvements.