A federal judge in Wisconsin on Tuesday struck down the state's controversial voter ID law on the grounds that it discriminates against Black, Latino/a, and low-income voters, disproportionately depriving them of their constitutionally-protected right to cast ballots.
Issued by Judge Lynn Adelman of Federal District Court in Milwaukee, the ruling came in response to an American Civil Liberties Union challenge of the law, which was passed in 2011 and imposes the often prohibitive requirement that voters show ID.
In a 90-page decision, Adelman rejected arguments made by the law's proponents that ID is necessary to prevent voter fraud, stating that there is a dearth of evidence that voter fraud is a problem in the state. "[I]t's is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes," writes Adelman.
"This is a warning to other states that are trying to make it harder for citizens to vote.”
— Dale Ho, ACLU"A disproportionate share of the Black and Latino populations must shoulder an additional burden in order to exercise the right to vote," Adelman continues. This is because "they are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, which in turn is traceable to the effects of discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and housing."
According to Adelman, 9 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin do not have the required ID — amounting to more than two times the margin of victory in the most recent gubernatorial election.
The ACLU had argued the law discriminates against minorities, the elderly, people with disabilities, and low-income and homeless people.
According to an ACLU statement,
Among the plaintiffs is Shirley Brown, an African-American woman in her 70s who was born at home in Louisiana and never had a birth certificate. Brown, who had voted in Wisconsin for decades, was denied an ID because she did not have a birth certificate. DMV rejected a statement from her elementary school attesting to her birth, even though Medicare accepted the statement. Another voter, Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., was unable to get ID because his birth certificate read "Eddie Junior Holloway" instead of "Eddie Lee Holloway Junior." The court recognized that these and many other voters would be harmed by the law.
This was the first time a federal court has invoked what's left of the Voting Rights Act after it was gutted this summer to overturn a state's voter ID law, potentially clearing the way for similar challenges across the country.
A New York Times op-ed states, "The Wisconsin ruling is important in part because it shows the power of the testimony of real, everyday people whose right to vote is demonstrably burdened by these laws."
"This is a warning to other states that are trying to make it harder for citizens to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This decision put them on notice that they can't tamper with citizens' fundamental right to cast a ballot. The people, and our democracy, deserve and demand better."