In the first significant legal test of the state’s restrictive voter ID law, Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan called it the “single most restrictive voter eligibility law” and in violation of the state’s Constitution.
Judge Flanagan pointed to studies finding that there were more than 200,000 Wisconsin residents who lacked a state-issued photo ID but were otherwise eligible to vote. The new law requires those who lack government photo ID to spend money to obtain the necessary documents, like birth certificates, and Flanagan ruled that such a requirement was unnecessarily burdensome to the elderly and disabled.
Furthermore, the ID requirement fell disproportionately on elderly people, people of color and the poor whit very little evidence to back up the purported state interest of policing voters to prevent fraudulent voting or voter impersonation.
This is a crucial decision for several reasons. First, the voter ID law will not be in effect for the state’s upcoming presidential primary and recall elections. Second, the Wisconsin Constitution explicitly grants the right to vote to all residents 18 or older and places no restrictions on exercising that right. Judge Flanagan’s ruling frames the issue in terms of voter eligibility requirements and holds there is no way to square the inflexible nature of voter ID requirements with the state’s express voting rights.
Finally, several states have passed or are trying to pass copycat versions of voter ID and a strong, definitive ruling based on state law is helpful given the difficult federal precedent voter ID opponents have to contend with.
Photo from kaylan via flickr.