Wisconsin’s voter identification law illegally burdens the ability of minority citizens to exercise their right to vote, a federal judge ruled, as court challenges intensify ahead of midterm elections in November.
The state, which contends the 2011 law is needed to combat potential voter fraud, said it will appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman. The decision follows a similar ruling throwing out Arkansas’s voter ID law last week.
Opponents of the laws, which became popular among Republican state legislatures before the 2012 presidential election, argue they are thinly veiled attempts to disenfranchise voters who traditionally vote Democratic. Many of the ID laws were thrown out when challenged in court.
Adelman, who presided over a two-week trial in Milwaukee federal court last year, ruled yesterday that the measure signed by Republican Governor Scott Walker has “a disproportionate impact on black and Latino voters.” The judge wrote that minority voters are more likely to live in poverty and thus have difficulty affording photo identification.
The law “only tenuously serves the state’s interest in preventing voter fraud and protecting the integrity of the electoral process,” Adelman said. “Therefore, the state’s interests do not justify the discriminatory result.”
The measure was implemented in time for a February 2012 election before being blocked by two state judges. Both of those cases are still pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Adelman’s decision comes only five days after a Little Rock, Arkansas judge found that state’s voter identification law -- which took effect last year -- violated constitutional requirements.
In January, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, judge barred that state from enforcing a similar provision, ruling it also made it too difficult for the poor and the elderly to vote. State court Judge Bernard McGinley reaffirmed the ruling on April 28, setting the stage for an appeal to Pennsylvania’s highest court.
At the Milwaukee trial, voters’ lawyer John Ulin likened the Wisconsin law to measures used to deter blacks from voting before federal voting rights statutes were passed in the 1960s.
Calling it an unconstitutional voter suppression law, Ulin said the number of minority voters who would be affected by it could fill Miller Park, the 42,000 seat stadium occupied by Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.
Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General Clayton Kawski countered that the case was about both the right to vote and the state’s right to prevent voter fraud.
“Picture IDs will deter voter impersonation fraud if not prevent it,” Kawski told the judge.
“The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” Adelman said in his ruling.
The cases are Frank v. Walker, 11-cv-1128, and League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin v. Deininger, 12-cv-185, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).
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