Voter ID laws are popular among conservative lawmakers because they disproportionately disenfranchise poor, student and minority voters, all of which are typically more left-of-center than the average voter. They also violate the federal Voting Rights Act’s prohibition on state laws that discriminate against minority voters.
According to Wisconsin Judge David Flanagan, they violate the Wisconsin Constitution too. In an order issued yesterday, Flanagan temporarily suspended his state’s voter ID law and strongly hinted that he will eventually strike the law down permanently.
As Flanagan’s opinion explains, the Wisconsin Constitution provides particularly strong protections for the right to vote — “[e]very United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district,” regardless of whether or not they have an ID. Moreover, the state supreme court has interpreted this constitutional provision very robustly. “Voting is a constitutional right,” according to the Wisconsin supremes, “any statute that denies a qualified elector the right to vote is unconstitutional and void.”
Flanagan accordingly subjects the law to the highest level of constitutional scrutiny, and finds it deeply lacking. As he explains, the law disenfranchises voters, sometimes in absurd ways, and targets a problem that is only slightly more real than fairies and unicorns:
[F]orty uncontested affidavits offer a picture of carousel visits to government offices, delay, dysfunctional computer systems, misinformation and significant investment of time to avoid being turned away at the ballot box. This is burdensome, all the more for the elderly and the disabled. . . . Mr. Ricky Tyrone Lewis is 58 years old, a Marine Corps Veteran and a lifelong Milwaukee resident. He was able to offer proof of his honorable discharge but Milwaukee County has been unable to find the record of his birth so he cannot obtain a voter ID card. Ms. Ruthelle Frank, now 84, is a lifelong resident of Brokaw, Wisconsin and a member of her town board since 1996. She has voted in every election over the past 64 years but she does not have a voter ID card. She located her birth certificate but found that her name was misspelled. She was advised to obtain a certified copy of the incorrect birth certificate and try to use that to obtain a voter ID card. . . .
The plaintiffs do not dispute, and the court certainly accepts fully the value of maintaining the accuracy and security of the ballot process. At this point, however, the record is uncontested that recent investigations of vote irregularities, both in the City of Milwaukee and by the Attorney General have produced extremely little evidence of fraud and that which has been uncovered, improper use of absentee ballots and unqualified voters, would not have been prevented by the photo identification requirements of Act 23.
Unfortunately, however, Flanagan’s decision will ultimately appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, whose current members have a long history of handing down ideologically conservative 4-3 decisions.