Voting-rights groups are launching what could be the opening round in a lengthy legal challenge to new state laws requiring voters to show photo ID.
The ACLU — along with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty — filed suit today in federal district court claiming that Wisconsin's new voter ID law is unconstitutional. They say the requirements amount to a poll tax on voters who are having trouble getting the photo ID.
The state will provide free ID to those who need it, but the big problem appears to be all the paperwork that's required to get it. The ACLU and other groups have found a number of voters with missing birth certificates or Social Security cards, needed to prove identity.
The suit has been filed on behalf of 17 state voters. They include 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank, who doesn't have a birth certificate. Other birth records have her name misspelled. Opponents of the state law say it could cost Frank about $200 to get things fixed.
The suit argues that these fees and the time needed to make repeated trips to government offices to get ID are a severe burden on some voters, especially the elderly, the poor, minorities and students.
Advocates of Wisconsin's and other state ID laws say they're trying to help prevent voter fraud — although there's no evidence that had been a widespread problem.
The bill's supporters also say claims that thousands of voters would be prevented from casting ballots are exaggerated. When asked about Ruthelle Frank's case, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said that proposed legislation to waive birth certificate fees to get a photo ID is a "viable alternative." He said the new ID law helps protect the rights of legitimate voters by ensuring that illegitimate voters can't cast ballots.
The reason the new lawsuit is important is that advocacy groups have been looking for a good challenge to voter ID laws, with the expectation that the issue will wind up before the Supreme Court.
The high court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, but left open the possibility that a future case could be decided differently if there's more evidence a voter's rights have been violated.
Cullen Werwie, Walker's press secretary, issued the following comment:
"The common sense election reforms signed into law earlier this year by Governor Walker are constitutional. Requiring photo identification to vote helps ensure the integrity of our elections—we already require it to get a library card, cold medicine, and public assistance. At least 15 other states have enacted photo ID requirements to vote. Photo ID requirements have been passed around the country and upheld by federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court."