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Expert: 'Substantial probability' voter ID law won't be in effect this November

By   /   June 27, 2012  /   1 Comment

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — It’s looks likely that Wisconsinites won’t need a photo identification when they go to vote in November.

In fact, legal expert Rick Esenberg said, “There’s a substantial probability that it (the voter ID law) won’t be in effect.”

The reason? Lawsuits.

Four lawsuits have been filed challenging the law — passed in May 2011 by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker — based on different legal arguments.

Two of those lawsuits have been combined in federal court, and a trial date is set for Sept. 10, according to the Government Accountability Board.

Two other lawsuits are pending in Dane County Circuit Court.

In one, filed by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess has ordered a permanent injunction of the law, barring it from being implemented.

That ruling is now before the Court of Appeals, but legal motions — including a motion to intervene in the case filed by a couple of lawmakers — have delayed an appeals court ruling.

Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, and Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, I-Manitowoc, withdrew their request after the GAB said they could not receive free legal assistance in the case.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’ll receive a ruling on the motion to intervene within a month,” the League’s attorney Susan Crawford said.

At that point, the League has nearly a month to file its own brief responding to the merits of the appeal, meaning any significant movement on the case is unlikely until the end of summer, at the earliest.

In the other case, filed by the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan has ordered a temporary injunction on the law’s implementation. Attorneys in the case are waiting for Flanagan to decide whether to make that temporary injunction permanent.

“You have these two injunctions in the state cases, one which is temporary but probably will be made permanent and the other which is permanent,” said Esenberg, who teaches law at Marquette University and is president of the Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty. “Something has to be done to lift those in order for the law to be enforced.”

The federal courts cannot force the state courts to lift the injunctions, Esenberg said.

At issue is one of the more controversial bills the Legislature has passed since Republicans took control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in the November 2010 elections.

The GOP and its allies say requiring voters to show a state-issued photo ID before receiving a ballot is an important tool in fighting voter fraud.

Critics of the law, including Democrats, contend the law will disenfranchise voters, including minorities and students who tend to vote for Democrats more often than for Republicans.

The continuing battle over the constitutionality of the law, however, has been a bit of a headache for the state’s election officials.

The law was in place for one, fairly innocuous election — the spring primary for nonpartisan elections held in February — before the injunctions took place.

In the elections since then, there have been multiple allegations of confusion at the polls, including reports that some people were told they couldn’t vote without an ID, even though the voter ID law wasn’t in effect.

GAB spokesman Reid Magney said he doesn’t expect the voter ID law to be in effect for the Aug. 14 GOP primary in which Republicans will choose their candidate for the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who represents the Madison area, is the only Democrat in the race.

But if the courts rule before the November elections that the law should be implemented, Magney said the GAB is ready.

“Poll workers have already been trained on how to request ID’s, how to check them, how to handle that whole process,” he said. “We’re telling clerks that it’s much easier to tell people not to do something (ask voters for ID’s) then it is to not train them and then to (have to) train them.”

The other, election-related legal issue — redistricting — seems wrapped up.

Last week, Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen said he would drop an appeal over a ruling by a federal court that Wisconsin had to redraw the boundaries of two, heavily Hispanic Milwaukee-area legislative districts.

Van Hollen also agree to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney more than $185,000, which will come from taxpayers. A group of Democrats that sued over the redistricting maps also have requested that their attorneys’ fees be paid.

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  • RDog1

    In effect or not, I will STILL, as I’ve done many times, proudly present my photo ID to the Poll Workers at each station, when I VOTE!! Just as I have to do to: See my Doctor; Buy Tobacco or Alcohol in any retail outlet; get laboratory work done at my clinic; etc.

    In NO way does the presentation of my ID inhibit me from doing anything!! And, it’s been required for dozens of purposes for my entire adult life.

    The ONLY people who have any negative consequences to showing their photo identification to vote are those who are legally ineligible to vote!!!! (That includes foreign students, CRIMINAL Immigrants, even legal immigrants not citizens of the United States and the district in which they are voting!)