Several changes Republicans made to Wisconsin election laws over the past several years are unconstitutional and were designed to unfairly suppress Democratic votes, according to a ruling issued by a federal judge.
The 119 page decision from Judge James Peterson, issued late Friday, struck down multiple laws passed by the GOP controlled Legislature since 2011, although it keeps in place a controversial voter ID law that has been the subject of multiple court challenges. Peterson rejected the reasoning given for several of the changes, saying “the purported justifications for these laws do not justify the burdens they impose.”
The ruling prohibits the state from enforcing limitations on the time and location for in-person absentee voting, the requirement that “dorm lists” to be used as proof of residence include citizenship information, a 28-day durational residency requirement, the prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email, and preventing the use of expired, but otherwise qualifying student IDs.
While the ruling did not overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law, Peterson did order the state to issue credentials to qualified electors who have difficulty meeting the requirements to get an ID, such as those who are unable to obtain a copy of their birth certificate. “Wisconsin has the authority to regulate its elections to preserve their integrity, and a voter ID requirement can be part of a well-conceived election system,” Patterson wrote. “But…parts of Wisconsin’s election regime fail to comply with the constitutional requirement that its elections remain fair and equally open to all qualified electors.”
Peterson’s ruling will have no effect on the state’s upcoming August 9 primary, but it will be in effect for the November presidential election unless overturned or blocked on appeal. A spokesman for the state Department of Justice said they plan to appeal.
Decision draws praise and criticism
The One Wisconsin Institute, one of the plaintiffs in the case, praised the decision. In a statement, director Scot Ross said “We argued Gov. Walker made it harder for Democrats to vote and easier for Republicans to cheat, and the judge agreed.”
“The people behind the laws Judge Peterson has struck down sought to put their own partisan interests ahead of the rights of every American — regardless of race, party, or age – to cast their ballot as they so choose,” Ross said.
Republicans were highly critical of the ruling. On Twitter, Governor Scott Walker said he was “Disappointed in the decision by an activist federal judge. Voters support common-sense measures to protect the integrity of our votes.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) called the ruling a “liberal judge’s attempt to undermine our elections less than four months out.” Vos argued that the laws “do not disenfranchise voters; they protected the integrity of our elections and people’s right to vote.”
Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas also released a statement, saying the agency was reviewing the decision. “If upheld, this decision would make significant changes to election laws affecting voters, which will require the Elections Commission to work very closely with local election officials to implement the changes and to educate voters. We will be providing further guidance to clerks and the public early next week.”