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Wisconsin Photo ID Goes to Federal Court

Two federal lawsuits head to court Monday against Wisconsin’s photo ID law for voting. A Dane County judge has blocked the law, at least temporarily.

The opposing sides will make their cases before federal Judge Lynn Adelman in downtown Milwaukee. He’ll consider whether the law is a reasonable protection against voter fraud or makes voting too difficult for some.

The American Civil Liberties Union insists that Wisconsin’s Photo ID would discourage some eligible voters from casting ballots - particularly Black and Latino voters. Larry Dupuis is legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. He says one misconception it’s fighting, is that all eligible voters have government identification.

“Not everybody has one of the seven forms of id that Wisconsin accepts. People of limited means don’t travel out of the country and therefore don’t have a passport. Lots of people in urban areas don’t drive and even in rural areas, one of our clients never drove and so she never had an id,” Dupuis says.

Dupuis says the ACLU will also present the court with examples of people who don’t have a birth certificate – or could not get a copy without hassle and expense. Wisconsin generally requires people to present their birth certificate in order to get a state id.

Most people have them, according to Attorney Lane Fitzgerald. His law firm in Beloit has filed a brief in support of Wisconsin’s Photo ID law. Fitzgerald says having official identification is pretty much a requirement these days in the U.S. – so why not for something as important as voting.

“You can’t drive a car without a photo id. You can’t enter a federal courthouse without a photo id. You can’t get onto a plane without a photo id. For many of us Wisconsinites, many of us can attest to this, there are also bars in the state of Wisconsin that you can’t get into without a photo id,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald says the federal courts have been upholding states’ photo identification rules. He says the trend is to protect the majority of voters.

“When there is voter fraud, what it does is it dissolute votes, such as yours and mine and makes them less powerful because you have people out there who are voting more than once or people who shouldn’t be voting at all. So, Wisconsin citizens and their right to vote are the people whose rights are pretty much at stake here,” Fitzgerald says.

According to Fitzgerald, Wisconsin’s photo id rule is similar to others the Supreme Court has upheld.

Larry Dupuis of the Wisconsin ACLU insists the other states’ laws are more accommodating.

“In Indiana, if you didn’t have the id, you could fill out an affidavit saying you couldn’t get an ID, and then your vote would count. The other state laws either have other similar exceptions or it’s much easier to get the ID of last resort, which here, is the DMV. (In) Georgia for example, the county clerk can issue a voter photo id that requires very little in the way of documentation,” Dupuis says.

Dupuis says the plaintiffs here will introduce individuals the law could disenfranchise. He says, for example, the Indiana case did not include specific examples.

What the case there did offer, according to Beloit Attorney Lane Fitzgerald, were instances in which more votes were cast in a ward than the actual number of registered voters. He says he cannot cite similar cases here because that’s not what he’s been researching.

While the federal case begins in Milwaukee, some Republican legislators are circulating changes to Wisconsin’s Photo ID law. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos expects quick action.

“It’s my intention to move that bill through the Legislature and I believe if changes need to be made, it will be signed by the governor sometime this fall,” Vos says.

One change, would reportedly allow voters to sign an affidavit, if they cannot get a photo id. The ballot might not count though, in the event of a disputed race. Another provision would allow veterans to use their ids to vote, a move that pleases the ACLU.