Court Finds Wisconsin Voter ID Law Constitutional

Wisconsin's reformer Governor Scott Walker
Wisconsin’s reformer Governor Scott Walker

As you probably know, the Arkansas legislature passed a voter ID law during the recent legislative session. The law requires voters to show a photo ID when casting their ballot. If they do not have one, one will be provided for them by the state.

Many on the Left have decried these types of reasonable election reforms for years, claiming they are attempts at “voter suppression.” Such claims are groundless for several reasons. The Arkansas Times has routinely resorted to this kind of name-calling, despite the fact that the evidence shows that states who enacted voter ID laws actually saw an increase in the voter populations that voter ID supposedly targeted — and despite the fact that numerous national polls show overwhelming support for voter ID laws, even among minorities.

One important legal question surrounding voter ID laws is fairly straightforward: Do voter ID laws create a new qualification for voting, or do they simply lay out a procedure that confirms that a given voter meets those qualifications? Supporters of voter ID, of course, argue that the laws simply set up a process to insure voter eligibility and do not create additional requirements — and therefore pass constitutional muster. Those who argued against voter ID took the opposite position — and did their best to ignore the rulings of state Supreme Courts in Georgia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, which found that voter ID created no new voter qualifications. Today, a Wisconsin appellate court added itself to the list of courts on the right side of the law.

Opponents of the Arkansas voter ID law, like the ACLU, argued that the law created a new requirement and was unconstitutional — and racist, of course. Indeed, state Senator David Johnson, in a hearing on voter ID, relied on the lower court’s ruling in the Wisconsin court case — but, for some reason, he neglected to mention that the district court case had no precedential weight whatsoever. Today, to repeat, that Wisconsin verdict was overruled. Unfortunately for the enemies of anti-fraud legislation, the weight of reality and outside authority is starting to pile up.

In 2011, Wisconsin lawmakers passed a voter ID law. It was immediately challenged in court by several groups, such as the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. A circuit court previously ruled in their favor — again, this was the decision Johnson relied on in committee earlier this year — but today a ruling was handed down by the state’s court of appeals that upholds the law.

You can read the ruling in its entirety here, but there are three key findings identified by the court, as translated by Lawyer Nic:

1. The plaintiffs failed to show how the photo ID requirement is any different than regular voter registration requirements.

2. The argument that the photo ID requirement is unconstitutional — because it imposes a restriction that is, on its face, so burdensome that it denies potential voters their right to vote and is “unreasonable” — was rejected.

3. The legislature has “implicit but broad constitutional authority” to create a voter registration system under which voters may be required to identify themselves, and that includes requiring a photo ID.

(That loud whining sound you hear actually isn’t tornado sirens — it’s Max Brantley crying.)

Here’s how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recapped the ruling:

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess agreed with the group in March 2012 that the new law created a new category of people who cannot vote — those without ID — and thus violated the state constitution. He issued an order blocking the law.

But the District 4 Court of Appeals on Thursday found that requiring the production of a photo ID is not an additional qualification for voting. Rather, it is a means of determining whether those who come to the polls are eligible to vote.

(That shrieking sound you hear is Rita Sklar, reading the Wisconsin court ruling and emitting a blood-curdling scream because of the unfairness of fair elections.)

The Wisconsin law is not out of the woods yet. There are still a few pending court cases that challenge the law based on other sections of the state constitution. But this ruling, which was unanimous, could certainly be a tipping point.

If Arkansas’s voter ID law is challenged — which it almost certainly will be — this Wisconsin ruling will likely be relevant. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who would be responsible for defending Arkansas’s law in court, has previously said he believes the Arkansas law likely passes constitutional muster.

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