October 23, 2014

2012 in Review: Voter ID hit roadblocks

Wisconsin’s Voter ID law had a rocky start this year, taking effect for only two months before the courts brought it to a screeching halt.

The law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls kicked in at the start of 2012 and was used in just one election, a primary in February. Reid Magney with the state Government Accountability Board said clerks around the state were ready to begin enforcing the law, thanks to extensive training programs from the agency. Public outreach efforts also worked to inform voters they would need to bring an ID to the polls, and the first election went off largely without any major problems reported.

As votes were being cast though, lawsuits had already been filed in Dane County Court seeking to overturn the requirement. The League of Women Voters challenged the constitutionality of the law, arguing it created a new class of person who would not be allowed to vote. The Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP and immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera argued the Voter ID requirement puts an undue burden on voters trying to exercise their rights.

In early March, an injunction was issued in the NAACP-Voces lawsuit, preventing further implementation of the law. The injunction was officially finalized after a court hearing, while a separate judge also issued an injunction in March that blocked the law based on arguments from the League of Women Voters. Following both decisions, supporters of the law accused liberal activist Dane County judges of legislating from the bench.

The Department of Justice moved quickly to appeal both rulings, even asking the state Supreme Court to combine the cases and take up the issue directly. The high court rejected those requests twice, preventing the Voter ID requirement from being in place during the recall election against Governor Scott Walker and other Republican lawmakers. Attorney General JB Van Hollen said he was shocked and disappointed by the decision and vowed to keep fighting to get the injunctions overturned as quickly as possible.

Since April, the law has remained tied up before an appellate court, which also kept it from being in effect during the November elections. An appeals court decision could come some time in 2013, which will likely be followed by the case going before the state Supreme Court.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:40)