Racist Wisconsin Voter ID Law Banned For Life (or at Least Until the State Appeals)

By Brentin Mock Apr 29, 2014

Wisconsin became the fifth state to strike down voter ID law today when a federal judge declared it a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups challenged the law under Section 2 of the Act, making this the first time a voter ID law was defeated under that part of the historic civil rights law. Under Section 2, Wisconsin had to prove that the law would not lead to a discriminatory impact on people of color. Well, they didn’t prove it. 

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

In Tuesday’s decision, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee determined the law requiring voters to show one of a narrow set of photo IDs at the polls violated the federal Voting Rights Act and established an unjustified burden on the right to vote. He issued an injunction barring the law from being enforced.

Here’s why the law was found discriminatory: A 2005 study by the UW-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute found that slightly fewer than half of blacks and Latinos held a valid driver’s license in Milwaukee compared to 83 percent of whites. For young black men, only 22 percent had valid IDs compared to 43 percent of young Hispanic males and 64 percent of white males.

The voting rights victory comes just days after Arkansas became the fourth state where courts struck down voter ID laws. Advancement Project, which supplied some of the lead attorneys on the Wisconsin case, also were pivotal in fighting off a voter ID law in Pennsylvania — a ruling that was reaffirmed by a state judge yesterday. Wisconsin State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has already pledged that he will appeal today’s court decision. He has stated that the law is needed to ward off voter impersonation fraud. 

"Wisconsin has long been recognized as the Selma of the North, and this case illustrates just why the Midwestern state bears this harrowing distinction," said Advancement Project managing director James Eichner in a statement. "Wisconsin’s discriminatory voter ID law is virtually indistinguishable from Jim Crow laws of earlier eras, which required poll taxes, property requirements, literacy tests and other contrived, racist measures designed to prevent African Americans from voting. We are encouraged the court concurred and took action to strike down Wisconsin’s voter ID law. For those who believe that in a democracy elections should be free, fair and accessible to all, this is a victory of monumental proportions."

"We’ve been saying all along that Wisconsin Voter ID law was an attempt to find a solution to an imaginary problem," the Wisconsin-based League of Young Voters president Biko Baker told Colorlines. "I am happy that the court sided with us.  Given that absolutely no one ever tries to vote illegally, maybe it’s time we finally put to rest this fake (and racist) narrative about voter fraud."