A federal appeal court has cleared the way for Wisconsin’s long-stalled voter ID law to be in place for the November elections.
Just hours after hearing arguments in a case challenging the requirement for voters to show a government-issued photo ID when obtaining a ballot, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday issued an order lifting an injunction that has kept the law from being enforced. The order states that “Wisconsin may if it wishes (and if it is appropriate under rules of state law), enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections.”
A U.S. District court judge ruled earlier this year that the law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 was unconstitutional. Today’s order notes that the lower court’s decision was based on arguments that Wisconsin had not shown the law was needed to “promote an important governmental interest,” while also potentially denying the ability of lower-income residents to vote, who may lack a “driver’s licenses, other acceptable photo ID, or the birth certificates needed to obtain them.” Such provisions would violate the Voting Right Act, because voters may have to pay to obtain supporting documents needed to get a photo ID, such as a birth certificate.
The state Department of Transportation this week unveiled a new system that’s designed to help those without a birth certificate obtain a photo ID. The program allows an individual to indicate if they lack the documents needed, resulting in the state verifying that person’s birth information at no charge through state vital records offices. The option was created in response to a decision issued by the state Supreme Court earlier this year, which upheld the voter ID law but also found the state must provide options that allow people to obtain an ID at no cost.
The federal appeals court’s order is not a final ruling on the merits of the actual challenge to the voter ID law. Judges indicated they will issue an opinion based on the merits of the case at a later date. However, based on the new birth verification system, the court wrote that “the panel has concluded that the state’s probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.”
The state will have to work quickly to have a voter ID system back in place in time for the November 4th election, which is less than two months away. In a statement, Government Accountability Board direct Kevin Kennedy said “We are taking every step to fully implement the voter photo ID law for the November General Election. We are now focused on communicating with local election officials and voters, and will have more information about the details next week.”
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the ruling, saying in a statement that the “decision is a victory for common sense, fair elections, and the right of every eligible voter to cast a vote that will count. This ruling vindicates the law and our efforts to ensure the policy of this state will be in effect for November’s election. My staff and I will work with the Government Accountability Board to ensure every eligible voter will be able to cast a ballot.”