Less than one month before Election Day, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled Wisconsin cannot require voters to show a government-issued photo identification when they request a ballot.
Wisconsin’s photo ID law for voting was ruled constitutional on Monday by the federal appeals court in Chicago, but the American Civil Liberty Union immediately went to the Supreme Court seeking an emergency request to block the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLU sought to put the law back on hold before November, arguing there’s not enough time to prepare voters. In response, justices issued an order late Thursday evening blocking the law from taking effect.
Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented in the decision to put the requirement back on hold, saying there was no evidence the appeals court had “erred in its application of acceptable standards.”
The order is just the latest chapter in a rather dramatic history for the voter ID law. The requirement, approved by the Legislature in 2011, was in effect for a single primary election in February of 2012. It was put on hold by a Dane County judge shortly after that, with further orders blocking its enforcement. Despite the state Supreme Court upholding the law earlier this year, it had remained on hold until September because of the ongoing federal challenge.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen released the following statement, following Thursday night’s decision:
“I believe the voter ID law is constitutional, and nothing in the Court’s order suggests otherwise. Instead, the Court may have been concerned that even with the extraordinary efforts of the clerks, absentee ballots that were distributed before the 7th Circuit declared the law valid might not be counted. We will be exploring alternatives to address the Court’s concern and have voter ID on election day. “
ACLU of Wisconsin Legal Director Larry Dupuis expressed relief:
“The ACLU of Wisconsin is profoundly relieved that the Supreme Court has halted the state’s ill-advised rush to implement the voter ID requirement. Thanks to this ruling, our clients and the many other voters without ID will be able to vote on November 4 without unnecessary obstacles.”
The state Government Accountability Board was set to launch a $400,000 public education campaign to help ensure voters were aware of the photo ID requirement before November 4. The future of that effort remained uncertain as of Thursday night and a GAB spokesman declined to comment, directing questions to the state Department of Justice.
WRN’s Andrew Beckett contributed to this story.