Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) wants a voter ID law in place in his state “before the next election,” even if his state’s supreme court strikes down the specific voter ID law that he signed in 2011. Walker will also be a candidate for reelection in the next election, so he has a personal stake in whether such a law is in place this November. In 2012, numbers guru Nate Silver estimated that a strict voter ID law could “reduce President Obama’s margin against Mitt Romney by a net of 1.2 percentage points.”
In order to ensure that a voter ID law is in place when he runs for reelection this year, Walker threatened to call a special session of his state’s legislature should the state supreme court strike the law down.
Voter ID, which requires voters to show a photo ID before they can cast a ballot at the polls, is difficult to square with the text of Wisconsin’s constitution. Under that constitution, “[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.” So the state legislature should not be allowed to disqualify these electors by adding an ID requirement. Two state judges struck the state’s voter ID law on these grounds, although an appeals court disagreed with one of those decisions.
Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court is conservative, some of the justices who are typically sympathetic to Walker’s agenda appeared skeptical of the voter ID law when the court heard oral arguments in February. Justice Patience Roggensack reportedly was bothered by the requirement that voters could have to pay $20 to obtain a birth certificate before they can obtain a voter ID, stating that she is “troubled by having to pay the state to vote.” Roggensack’s fellow conservative Justice David Prosser also cited the inconvenience of having to obtain his birth certificate before he could get the ID he needed to vote. These objections, however, may only lead them to hold that the law must provide an easier path for voters without birth certificates, rather than leading them to strike down voter ID in its entirety, as the text of the Wisconsin Constitution seems to indicate is the correct outcome.
Though voter ID’s defenders often claim that the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud at the polls, the reality is that such fraud is virtually non-existent. One study of Wisconsin voters found that just 0.00023 percent of votes are the product of such fraud. Meanwhile, the laws disproportionately disenfranchise racial minorities, low-income voters and students, all of whom tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans.