Bloomberg News

Wisconsin Attorney General Seeks to Restore Voter-ID Law

August 21, 2012

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate a voter identification law before the Nov. 6 elections.

The law would require otherwise-eligible voters to present a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to cast ballots. It was declared unconstitutional March 12 by Circuit Judge Richard G. Niess in Madison. A second judge, David T. Flanagan, ruled the law invalid July 17 after a nonjury trial.

The attorney general appealed both rulings on the state’s behalf.

“While I respect the judicial process and the right to challenge a law in court, it is time for our Supreme Court to take control of these cases,” the Republican attorney general said in a statement.

Papers seeking a bypass of the state’s intermediate appellate court, consolidation of the cases and a high-court injunction were filed by the state with the Supreme Court in Madison just before noon, said Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for Van Hollen.

Fights over voting access are intensifying in swing states, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where both Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns see a possibility of victory. Voter cases are also under way in Alabama, Texas and South Carolina.

2011 Law

First-term Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, signed the Wisconsin voter ID measure into law last year.

“Requiring photo identification to vote helps ensure the integrity of our elections,” a spokesman for Walker, Cullen Werwie, told Bloomberg News last year.

There are nine forms of acceptable ID, the state said. They include a driver’s license or Department of Transportation- issued state identification card.

The agency is required by the law to issue an ID free to anyone who doesn’t have photo identification, can prove U.S. citizenship, will be at least 18 years old on Election Day and is otherwise eligible to vote.

The cases were filed last year by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“The law imposes additional qualifications beyond those listed in the constitution,” a League of Women Voters attorney, Susan Crawford, told Niess during oral argument in March.

Niess, in his March 12 ruling, agreed.

Court’s Ruling

“The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses these qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily created qualifications,” the judge said.

The attorney general maintains the law is both constitutional and necessary to ensure sound administration of elections, according to today’s filings.

Arguing for a Supreme Court stay of enforcement of Niess’s ruling and that of Flanagan, Van Hollen told the high court that a last-minute reversal of those rulings on appeal may result in voters’ being unable to obtain a qualifying ID in time for the election.

“Those persons would then be effectively disenfranchised,” he said. “Not because the voter photo ID requirements prevented them from voting, but because the circuit court’s injunction led them to believe it was not necessary to comply with those requirements.”

‘Hail Mary’

Lester Pines, a League of Women Voters lawyer, said in a phone interview that his clients have 14 days to file papers opposing the attorney general’s requests. He also predicted the Supreme Court would reject Van Hollen’s overtures.

“The Supreme Court has already heard this one,” Pines said, citing the high court’s decision this year to reject an earlier referral by the intermediate-level state Court of Appeals. That court then put the case on an accelerated briefing schedule.

“It’s kind of a hail Mary pass by the attorney general,” Pines said. “I don’t think the Supreme Court is going to be interested in taking this case up at the last minute.”

NAACP attorney Aaron Halstead didn’t immediately reply to a voice-mail message seeking comment.

Two more challenges to the voter ID law are pending at the federal courthouse in Milwaukee. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman last week scheduled a preliminary injunction hearing in both cases for Oct. 10.

The cases are League of Women Voters of Wisconsin v. Walker, 2011CV04669; and Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker, 2011CV005492, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court, Dane County (Madison).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Dunn at adunn8@bloomberg.net


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