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Wisconsin Voter Photo-Identification Law Temporarily Blocked

A Wisconsin law requiring voters to show photo identification to receive a ballot was temporarily blocked by a state judge after a civil rights group sued Governor Scott Walker over the measure.

Judge David Flanagan in Dane County yesterday ruled that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People demonstrated a probability of success in overturning the 2011 law and that a temporary injunction was necessary to prevent “irreparable harm.”

“If no injunction is issued, a clearly improper impairment of a most vital element of our society will occur,” Flanagan wrote in his order. “The duty of the court is clear. The case has been made.”

Democrats and Republicans are at odds over voting laws before the 2012 elections. Democrats say they are seeking to ensure voters’ access to the polls while Republicans such as Walker argue more needs to be done to prevent voter fraud. Similar suits claiming the Wisconsin law unconstitutionally burdens the rights of people including senior citizens and minorities are pending in state and federal court.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in an e-mailed statement today that he will appeal the ruling to ensure that the “properly enacted and legally sufficient” law is in effect before the state’s April 3 presidential primary.

‘Vast Majority’

“The vast majority of eligible electors either has a qualifying photo ID or can obtain one without significant burdens,” Van Hollen said in the statement. “For the rest, the law makes accommodations to reduce any potential burden.”

He said there is an educational campaign about the law and a requirement that a state agency assist voters in getting proper identification.

The Wisconsin Republican Party today filed a complaint with the state’s Judicial Commission asking for an investigation into its claims that Flanagan signed a petition to recall Walker, party spokesman Ben Sparks said in a phone interview. Flanagan should have recused himself from the case and his ruling should be voided, Sparks said.

“By signing a petition to recall the Governor, Judge Flanagan made his bias in the case known, which represents a clear conflict of interest,” Sparks said. The Wisconsin Republican party is urging the Judicial Commission “to take up this matter and investigate these allegations as soon as possible.”

Recall Petition

Flanagan didn’t immediately return calls to his home and office or an e-mail seeking comment on the allegations about the recall petition. A message on the office voice-mail system asks callers to submit questions about the ruling in writing.

Sparks provided a copy of what he said was the recall petition bearing the judge’s signature. That couldn’t be immediately confirmed independently.

More than 1.9 million petition signatures aimed at forcing recalls of Walker, his lieutenant governor and four state senators, all Republicans, have been submitted to election officials for review.

In his order, Flanagan said that while a majority of eligible voters in Wisconsin have a valid driver’s license, those who rely on a state voter identification card must first pay for a birth certificate, which the Missouri supreme court in a different case concluded was an “improper burden” for voters.

The NAACP’s evidence in the case also offered a “picture of carousel visits” to government offices, dysfunctional computer systems, misinformation and significant investments of time, which is “burdensome, all the more for the elderly and the disabled,” Flanagan wrote.

A trial is set for April 16.

The case is Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker, 11-CV-5492, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison).

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