Wisconsin at vanguard of national legal fight on voter ID

Journal Times,  May 31, 2016

The legal fight over Wisconsin’s photo ID voting requirement put it back in the political spotlight this month, with the state a key front in the national battle surrounding such laws.

Here and elsewhere, the courtroom struggle stems from photo ID and other voting changes enacted by Republican legislators and governors in the last five years. Many, including Wisconsin’s, take effect in a presidential election for the first time this November.

A nine-day court trial of the Wisconsin legal challenge concluded Thursday in federal court in Madison, and a forthcoming ruling in that case could decide how voter ID affects the state’s 2016 general election. The outcome of that and another lawsuit also could influence the national back-and-forth on voter ID.

“There are real voters voting under these laws,” said Jennifer Clark of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has opposed voter ID. “Right now it’s pretty unsettled what they will face when they head to the polls.”

Both lawsuits rest on the charge that Wisconsin’s law is disenfranchising some would-be voters who lack IDs, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at the University of California-Irvine.

Wisconsin and Indiana are among nine states with “strict” photo ID requirements, as defined by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In such states, someone trying to vote without an ID must vote on a provisional ballot and take additional steps after Election Day for their vote to be counted.

Wisconsin is among an even smaller group of states in which a ballot cannot be counted if the voter does not provide an ID.

Whatever the courts decide in Wisconsin, it’s unlikely they’ll require major changes too soon before the November election, according to Wendy Underhill, an elections expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That could be a factor if the Wisconsin suit advances to the 7th Circuit, which could happen if either side appeals Peterson’s ruling.

“The courts are sensitive to not shifting things up at the last minute,” Underhill said.

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