In approving one of the strongest photo ID requirements in the country for voters, GOP lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker violated a few little-noted paragraphs of the state constitution – so say opponents of the law who are preparing a legal challenge to it.
But Republicans dismissed that claim, saying that in writing the legislation earlier this year they took care not to violate the federal or state constitution. They said the current objections over the state’s charter show photo ID opponents are recognizing the difficulties of a federal lawsuit over the law.
A lawsuit being prepared by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin will allege that the law violates right to vote provisions of the state constitution not present in the U.S. Constitution. The group plans to file its lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court, its attorney Lester Pines said.
“It is absolutely clear that the Legislature paid no attention to the (right to vote) provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution when it passed voter ID,” Pines said. “I’m not aware of any point in which they came up.”
Pines said that requiring a photo ID amounts to another restriction on voting that isn’t authorized by the state constitution. He said that small numbers of state residents are citizens but lack a birth certificate because of unusual circumstances in their lives, making it difficult to obtain an ID.
The law will require voters to show photo identification at the polls starting with next year’s presidential primary. The law approved in May ended a decade-long quest by GOP officials and made Wisconsin the 11th state to have approved requiring some form of photo ID at the polls.
Democrats say the $7 million measure is costly and unnecessary and will do little to prevent voter fraud while disenfranchising minority, elderly and rural voters. Republicans say the measure should prevent voter fraud and provide more public confidence in elections.
Rick Esenberg, a Marquette University law professor and the head of what he describes as a “conservative public-interest law firm,” said that he believes opponents of the photo ID law are focusing on the state challenge because Republican supporters of the law did a good job of following rules laid out by earlier federal Supreme Court decisions on voter ID laws in other states.
But he doubted the challenge would meet the high burden needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the law was unconstitutional.
“It’s an interesting argument, and I can see why (opponents) want to do it rather than beating their head against the federal wall,” said Esenberg, who is the president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.