Federal Court Strikes Down Wisconsin Voter ID Law

By Sameer Rao Jul 20, 2016

A federal court in Milwaukee just ruled against a controversial Wisconsin voter ID law.

In the case of Frank v. Walker, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin decided yesterday (July 19) that voters who could not provide acceptable photo identification must be allowed to seek and use an affidavit that confirms their identity.

"Although most voters in Wisconsin either possess qualifying ID or can easily obtain one, a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort," read the ruling. "The plaintiffs’ proposed affidavit option is a sensible approach that will both prevent the disenfranchisement of some voters during the pendency of this litigation and preserve Wisconsin’s interests in protecting the integrity of its elections."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed the complaint behind Frank v. Walker in 2011, challenging defendant and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker‘s introduction of the voter ID law. That law, considered among the toughest in the nation, required all voters to present a photo ID. While Walker suggested the law would help counteract voter fraud, critics said the law (as well as other voter ID laws around the country) disenfranchised poor voters of color who disproportionately cannot afford to provide one of the photo IDs accepted under Walker’s guidelines. 

The ACLU’s suit, which included several impacted Wisconsin residents as plaintiffs, intitially succeeded in 2014 when the aforementioned district court struck down the law as a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Although the Court of Appeals for the Seventh District reversed the decision later that year, the ACLU successfully prevented the law from impacting voters in the 2014 midterm and 2015 primary elections. The ACLU then asked for a provision that allows those who cannot reasonably obtain a ID to use an affidavit instead. After a denial, an appeal forced the same district court to hear claims from impacted voters and rule on the affidavit option.

While yesterday’s ruling confimed that voters can use an affidavit in place of the accepted ID—which includes a Wisconsin-issued driver’s license and identification card—it does not force the government to inform voters of the policy update.

The ACLU also filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging Kansas’ voter registration policies. Brown v. Kobach, filed in the Third Judicial District in Topeka, challenges a dual voter registration system that restricts many residents from voting in state or municipal elections because they used federal forms that required less documentation than the state forms. That lawsuit names Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who openly supported voter ID laws and says he helped Donald Trump create his immigration policy, as defendant.