On Friday, a federal judge struck down a string of restrictive Wisconsin election laws passed in recent years, finding that they were tailored to benefit the Republicans who enacted them and unfairly disenfranchised minority voters. The decision, a sweeping indictment of the state’s laws, will reset the state’s voting rules four months before a crucial presidential election.
“The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities,” U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote.
In his ruling, Peterson wrote that he could not overturn Wisconsin’s entire voter ID law, unlike recent decisions in North Carolina and Texas, as a federal appeals court had already found Wisconsin’s restrictions to be constitutional. However, he ordered that the state quickly issue valid voting credentials to anyone trying to obtain free photo IDs, calling the current system for issuing IDs a “wretched failure” that overwhelmingly cut out black and Hispanic citizens.
“To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease,” Peterson wrote in his opinion.
A preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement.
Peterson also struck down prohibitions on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs and distributing absentee ballots by fax or email, and he struck a residency requirement that had increased from 10 to 28 days. He also struck as unconstitutional restrictions limiting municipalities to one location for in-person absentee voting and restrictions limiting the hours for such voting.
Writing on the restrictions on voting hours, Peterson found that “the legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.” As such, he wrote, the restriction “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.”
The voting rules will remain unchanged for Wisconsin’s August 9th primary elections, as Peterson concluded that changing the laws less than two weeks in advance would be disruptive. However, unless his decision is overturned on appeal, the laws will be reset for the November 8th presidential election, which could prove crucial in a determining whether the battleground state goes to Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump.
Friday’s ruling comes on the heels of a similar preliminary decision in Milwaukee striking down voter ID laws, but is broader and represents a sweeping defeat for Wisconsin’s Republican-led legislature and Gov. Scott Walker (R). Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel, also a Republican, said he planned to appeal the decision. Walker tweeted his disappointment.
Disappointed in the decision by an activist federal judge. Voters support common-sense measures to protect the integrity of our votes.
— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) July 30, 2016
Wisconsin is just one of several states to pass voting restrictions in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Republican lawmakers insist that the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, despite study after study finding that voter ID fraud is virtually nonexistent. Instead, the restrictions have been consistently shown to suppress voting among younger, low-income, and minority voters, who broadly tend to vote Democratic.
During the trial, plaintiffs for the Wisconsin case, a group of disenfranchised voters, and the advocacy groups One Wisconsin Now and Citizen Action rolled out damning evidence, including testimony from a then-Senate aide that behind closed doors, Republican lawmakers were “giddy” at the prospect of suppressing Democratic votes. Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) told a local TV reporter that he believed the voter ID law would help Donald Trump win Wisconsin in November.
The 4 Most Damning Revelations In Wisconsin’s Voter ID TrialPolitics by CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast A federal court is currently weighing a case that could impact the…thinkprogress.orgThe Wisconsin ruling came after a decision earlier on Friday from a federal appeals court striking down North Carolina’s omnibus voter suppression law, which had been called the worst voter suppression law in the nation. On July 20th, Texas’s Voter ID law also fell, in a surprise decision from a conservative court finding that the law violated the Voting Rights Act.