Lawsuit challenges restrictive student ID policies in Wisconsin

The Daily Cardinal,  February 6, 2020

"Amid rising political participation nationally, multiple advocacy groups pinpointed the decrease in Wisconsin’s student voter turnout to restrictive student ID voter legislation passed in the early 2010s and later upheld by the courts in 2016. And as another presidential election steadily approaches, a bevy of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the student ID voter restrictions have flooded state — and now federal — judiciaries. 

Wisconsin experienced the second-largest decline in student voter turnout across the United States in 2016, with areas reporting 5 to 11 percent decreases. A 2017 study that surveyed Dane and Milwaukee counties determined anywhere from 16,000 to 23,500 college-aged voters were deterred from voting due to the restrictions. 

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In the latest attempt to restore equal voting rights for Wisconsin college students, the Andrew Goodman Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Election Commissioners in November 2019 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. 

AGF is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that supports voting accessibility and social justice initiatives across college campuses.

Racing against time, a logjam in the courts and the state’s motion to halt the case, AGF recently submitted a memorandum on Jan. 22, seeking an injunction — halting a ruling — to interrupt the implementation of the restrictions.

Late Thursday, however, the court granted a stay, or freeze, on all legal action per a request from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, who represent the elections commissioners.

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The law stipulates that in order for a college student ID to be deemed acceptable to be used to vote, it must contain 'the issuance date, an expiration date no more than two years after the issuance date and the holder’s signature.'

Wisconsin colleges commonly attribute financial and security issues as reasons for not updating their student IDs to agree with the legislation, according to court documents. 

AGF filed the lawsuit and cited a violation of the 26th Amendment — which protects American citizens from being discriminated from voting based on age — as their main argument.

Additionally, AGF sought an injunction to prevent continued enforcement of the restrictions. 

As similar lawsuits citing the 14th and 15th Amendment arguments lay idle after years of litigation, the AGF case asserts itself as a direct challenge to the state’s student ID voter restrictions and a necessary step to promote free and fair elections in Wisconsin. 

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As the clock kept ticking, the Wisconsin Department of Justice ratcheted up its defense on behalf of the Wisconsin Election Commissioners. The DOJ filed a brief on Dec. 4, 2019, in favor of initiating a temporary stay on all litigation until further notice.

A central component of the DOJ’s argument charges that other lawsuit’s overlapped with AGF’s and the courts should “await the outcome of parallel proceedings as a matter of ‘wise judicial administration,’” the brief alleges.

The defense also challenged AGF’s decision to file a complaint so close to a general election and purported the laws solely intend to deter voter fraud. Another argument posited a ruling on a prior lawsuit would “streamline the issues,” according to the defense’s brief, even though individual cases are contending different perspectives.

Due to the case’s pending status, the Wisconsin Department of Justice declined to comment."

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Hannah Piercey

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