December 21, 2014

Supreme Court hears Voter ID challenges

The fate of Wisconsin’s controversial Voter ID law is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court. Justices heard oral arguments Tuesday in a pair of challenges to the 2011 law, which both contend that the measure approved by Republicans in 2011 is an unconstitutional restriction on the rights of thousands of Wisconsin voters.

Attorney Lester Pines is representing the League of Women Voters, which argues the requirement puts an extra burden on those who have already registered to vote. Pines says requiring a photo ID at the polls is “an additional qualification to vote. It is not in the Constitution, it’s legislatively imposed on a qualified voter who has proven his or her qualifications already.”

The second lawsuit considered Tuesday comes from the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP. The group maintains that the law infringes on the rights of voters who may have difficulty obtaining an ID, and it amounts to a poll tax on voters who will either have to pay to obtain an ID or to obtain the documents, such as a birth certificate, that are needed to get one from the state. Attorney Richard Saks also criticized claims that the law is meant to prevent voter fraud, when there has not been an arrest, prosecution, or conviction in Wisconsin for voter impersonation, the only crime he says the law would address.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Kawski argued the law does not create an undue burden for voters, who can still cast a provisional ballot on Election Day if they don’t have a photo ID. However, Pines countered that the provisional ballot does little to help the thousands of voters who could potentially still have trouble finding the documents needed to obtain an ID before their ballot is cast aside.

Members of the court peppered attorneys on both sides of the case with questions about the scope of the law and the relief that is available to individuals who lack a photo ID. Justice Patience Roggensack raised concerns about the fact that some people may be prompted to purchase a state ID card so they can cast a ballot. While she says it does not rise to the level of a universal poll tax, “it’s still a payment to the state to be able to vote. That bothers me.”

The Supreme Court is now considering the challenges. It could be several months before a decision is released.