Federal appeals court upholds Wisconsin voter ID law

Published October 06, 2014 Associated Press

FILE: Voters at the Charles Allis Museum cast their ballots for the U.S. presidential election in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (REUTERS)

MADISON, Wis. – A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Wisconsin's requirement for voters to show photo identification at the polls is constitutional, a decision that's not surprising after the court last month allowed for the law to be implemented while it considered the case.

State elections officials are preparing for the photo ID law to be in effect for the Nov. 4 election, even as opponents continue their legal fight. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project asked the U.S. Supreme Court last week to take emergency action and block the law.

Opponents argue that requiring voters to show photo ID, a requirement that had only been in place for a low-turnout February 2012 primary, will create chaos and confusion at the polls. But supporters say most people already have a valid ID, and if they don't there is time to get one before the election.

The opinion comes a month before the election involving the closely watched race between Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who supports the law, and Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

A lower court judge, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, struck the law down as unconstitutional in April, saying it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters who may lack such identification. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked the 7th Circuit to overturn that ruling.

The three-judge panel agreed with Van Hollen and overturned Adelman's ruling. The judges said Wisconsin's law is substantially similar to one in Indiana that the U.S Supreme Court declared was constitutional.

ACLU Wisconsin attorney Larry Dupuis said he was traveling and had not seen the opinion but was disappointed in the ruling. A spokeswoman for Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who defended the law, did not immediately return a message.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law and Walker signed it in 2011, saying it was an important safeguard against voter fraud. But opponents argued claims of fraud were overblown and the real intent was to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning constituencies -- including minorities and poor people -- from voting.

Because of legal challenges, the law has not been in effect since the February 2012 primary. But since the Sept. 12 ruling allowing the law to go into effect pending the court's final decision, Wisconsin elections officials have been working to educate voters about the requirement.

Wisconsin's law requires people to show certain government-issued photo ID at the polls to vote. Anyone who doesn't have the proper ID on Election Day can cast a provisional ballot, and they would then have until 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election to present the required ID to have the vote counted.

Judge Frank Easterbrook, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote the opinion and was joined by judges Diane Sykes and John Tinder, both appointees of Republican President George W. Bush.