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Wisconsin voter ID decision a chance to push back on suppression tactics

Lauren Taylor • May 07, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/40969298@N05/14114098213/in/photostream/Last week, Wisconsin Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, ruling that it violated the 14th Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

According to Adelman, the law would have affected about 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters who lack a government-issued photo ID, required by the law-in-question to vote. Adelman wrote that the law would have a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters who are more likely to be among those 300,000 than their white counterparts.  Furthermore, the purported justification for the voter ID laws – in Wisconsin and across the country – is the threat of voter fraud.

But Adelman found the threat to be non-existent:

“The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past…. It is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”

The ruling not only blocks the current bill but also requires legal approval for any other voter ID measure. That means the alternate bill (AB 493), designed for such a contingency, might fail to meet the standard set by Judge Adelman. Ari Behrman spoke with Dale Ho of the ACLU about the significance of the Wisconsin ruling, particularly giving the other major news story about race that day — the decision to ban Donald Sterling from the NBA.

“It’s not just these intentional, Donald Sterling-like acts that matter,” says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, which challenged the Wisconsin voter ID law. “It’s laws that reinforce existing patterns of inequality which themselves are related to broad patterns of discrimination.”

This significant rebuke comes on the heels of court decisions in Pennsylvania and Arkansas that also rejected strict voter ID laws. Last fall, the Indiana judge who wrote the majority opinion on a landmark voter ID case, admitted guilt to approving a law “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.” Posner’s 2007 ruling, upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008, gave a green light to state voter ID requirements.

Some writers have criticized advocates for capitulating to voter ID measures. In an LA Times column, Michael Hiltzik accused voting rights advocates of dithering while judges have made substantial progress:

“The saddest spectacle on the voting rights front lately has been the sight of progressive voting rights ‘reformers’ giving up the fight against photo ID laws. … The argument is that Republican-sponsored voter ID laws are here to stay, so we might as well just make it easier for people to get photo ID so they can exercise their right to vote.”

Hiltzik goes on to argue that voter ID laws are not “impregnable,” and while higher courts have yet to weigh in on recent lower court decisions, the last two weeks prove that the battle over voter ID is far from over. This should be a rousing moment, for — as many know — voter ID laws ARE voter suppression.

These promising rulings are a reason to hope – and fight back – in what has otherwise been a tough year for voting rights advocates. Invoking the specter of voter fraud, and calling for “election integrity,” a host of conservative and organized anti-immigrant groups have passed state laws that obstruct access to the ballot box. Nativists like Kobach have supported and initiated proof-of-citizenship requirements (recently supported by a federal court decision in Kansas), voter ID laws, voter roll purges, and the elimination same day voter registration and early voting. In their particular obsession with driving out immigrants – or at least preventing them from becoming voting citizens – nativists have made significant contributions to wider attacks on voting rights.

In the interest of immigrant rights and civil rights, perhaps it’s time to more unequivocally reject these voter suppression measures. Though the ultimate result of recent court decisions remains to be seen, they provide an opening. Will we take it?

Image source: Overpass Light Brigade

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