Wisconsin Voter-ID Law Tested in Milwaukee Federal Trial

A Wisconsin law requiring voters to present photo identification isn’t needed to prevent election fraud and imposes an illegal burden on minority-group members, a lawyer in a suit attacking the statute said as a trial began.

Karyn Rotker, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the statute disproportionately affects black and Latino voters, “denying and diluting their voting rights.”

The state has acknowledged in depositions “that there has not been a single case of voter fraud based on a person impersonating another at the polls in state history,” she told U.S. District Judge Lynn S. Adelman today in Milwaukee. And the law will do nothing to prevent the fraud that does occur -- “voting twice or voting for a deceased spouse.”

The measure was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, in 2011. Lawyers for the state say it’s needed to detect and deter voter fraud. Opponents argue it’s an unconstitutional burden and in effect a poll tax. The ACLU seeks an order blocking the measure. Adelman is hearing the trial without a jury. It’s to last two weeks, the judge said.

Daniel Lennington, a lawyer for the state, said in his opening statements that that “just because a person currently is not in possession of a valid form of identification does not mean that they will never ever be able to get a qualified ID.”

Lennington said that 170,000 free identification cards have been issued since the law was adopted. All but two of the 23 named plaintiffs in the case obtained valid IDs since the lawsuits were filed, he said.

ACLU Witnesses

Rotker called witnesses who testified it’s difficult for many people to get photo-ID cards.

Yolanda Santos-Adams, president of the Urban League in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said she conducted information sessions in the two counties south of Milwaukee and tried to register voters.

“Over 50 percent of the people we dealt with did not have ID cards,” she testified. “ Most did not have birth certificates needed to get the IDs, and others had trouble getting to the DMVs. Once there, they were faced with long waits to get the IDs. The written informational materials from the state were only in English, and there was no outreach to the Hispanic communities in the state. Most of the people we serve do not read English or Spanish.”

Assistant Attorney General Clayton Kawski asked Santos-Adams if she had ever called to see if there were shorter wait times at the motor vehicle department.

Long Waits

“There is no best time to go to the DMV,” the witness said. “The wait time is always three hours or more.”

Both sides filed written arguments before the trial.

“Obtaining one of the limited forms of photo ID deemed acceptable -- even a purportedly ‘free’ ID -- is a complex, burdensome and costly process for members of the plaintiff classes,” ACLU lawyers said last month in court papers.

It also puts an undue burden on municipal clerks overseeing elections “many of whom do not understand the law,” the ACLU said.

Birth certificates, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said, can cost money to obtain. Getting the proper identification may also entail first getting a Social Security card for which a photo ID might also be required, they said.

Attorneys for the state maintain the measure, known as Act 23, is constitutional.

“Act 23 advances compelling state interests in deterring and detecting voter fraud, promoting the orderly election administration and record-keeping and safeguarding public confidence in the integrity of the election process,” lawyers for the state said in a court filing.

The case is Frank v. Walker, 11-cv-01128, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).

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