It was no surprise, but disappointing nonetheless.
A federal appeals court late Monday reinstituted Wisconsin’s hotly-disputed Voter ID law, reversing a district court’s order in Frank v. Walker, and complicating plans for a mid-term election that’s now less than four weeks away.
Never mind that the Supreme Court has issued warnings against changes to voting laws this close to Election Day. Monday’s 7th U.S, Circuit Court of Appeals decision plunges ahead with the voter ID law, ignoring its discriminatory impact -- a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution -- and adds Wisconsin to a list of nearly 20 states that have made it harder for eligible citizens to vote.
As the district court found, the new law stands to disenfranchise 300,000 voters – 9% of the total registered in Wisconsin – all of whom lack the photo ID needed to vote. The total includes 2.4% of the state’s registered white voters, 4.5% of African-Americans, and 5.9% of Latinos.
It doesn’t include the 22% of Wisconsin residents who are unregistered but eligible to show up on Election Day to both register and vote.
Incorrectly finding that the law does not disenfranchise voters, the 7th Circuit asserted that while no incidents of in-person voter fraud have been reported in Wisconsin, the voter ID law is needed to instill public confidence in the electoral process. That’s akin to saying we need a law requiring everyone to stay inside during electrical storms even though virtually no one gets struck by lightning Oh wait, it’s actually worse, because photo ID laws affect our constitutional right to vote. Can you imagine the implications of passing hordes of laws that present solutions where no problems exist?
It’s interesting that many voter ID advocates simultaneously complain that government already is too over-reaching. A preventative cure for voter fraud is likely not what legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and other states seek. They want to keep certain groups of their fellow citizens – people of color, seniors, students, and those with disabilities – from the polls.
Since the Supreme Court in Shelby Co. v. Holder gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – invalidating the formula that specified which jurisdictions had to get federal clearance for voting changes before implementation – states across the country have passed legislation making it harder for large swath of Americans to cast ballots. Wisconsin was not previously covered by the act, but it – and several other states once covered – must do better by their voters.
We need a system that ensures that no states discriminate against anyone who wants to exercise our most cherished and basic right. Under the proposed Voting Rights Amendment Act – a more modern and flexible version of the earlier law – any state could come under the federal government’s guidance if it shows, by repeated acts, that its laws and practices disproportionately hurt voters of color. That’s a step in the right direction and could help to get the country back on track. It deserves your support.
Until legislators do right by their citizens, and until Congress passes necessary legislation, advocates on the ground will be doing what’s right and needed. Common Cause Wisconsin has been working for months now to educate voters on what they can expect on Election Day, helping those previously marginalized to register, and mobilizing efforts to get out the vote. Advocates will be ready at the polls – in Wisconsin and elsewhere -- to provide voters with accurate information and stop any illegal activity.
Sign up to be a part of the solution! Show courts and legislations across the country that no matter how they try to dampen turnout, it won’t work. Get registered (or register on Election Day if your state permits it!), get to the polls, and make sure your friends and family do the same. Without your voices, it’s just someone else’s government.
If you live in Wisconsin, call (608)256-2686 and we'll get you in touch with our activists on the ground.