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Justices Grill Attorneys in Wisconsin Voter ID Challenge

Wisconsin’s Voter ID law went before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday. The law requires residents to present a government-issued photo ID, in order to vote.

The two parties fighting Wisconsin’s Voter ID law in state court are the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Chapter of the NAACP and the immigrant rights group, Voces de la Frontera.

Attorney Lester Pines presented their arguments. He called the law, unconstitutional.

“Our constitution says there are three qualifications, that one must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years of age and a resident of the state. Those are the qualifications to vote, nothing more and nothing less. The way this legislation is written, it creates an additional qualification,” Pines says.

Pines also insisted that the Legislature overstepped its bounds, when it enacted Voter ID. Supporters claim it would root out voter fraud.

“If the Legislature seeks to address an issue it thinks apparently exists, it may not do so in a way that impairs or destroys the right to vote,” Pines says.

Pines acknowledged that the law allows voters who don’t have a driver’s license to obtain a state-issued ID, free of charge. But he said people would have to present a birth certificate, and counties usually charge for that document. One of the court’s conservative-leaning justices, Michael Gableman, questioned Pines.

Gableman: “If they remove every economic barrier for every citizen to get an acceptable ID, what does that do to your argument regarding impairment?”

Pines: “That would probably not impair the right to vote.”

Gableman: “Okay, that wasn’t so hard, now.”

Next, it was the state’s turn to defend the law. Assistant Attorney General Clayton Kawski told the court that the Legislature has the power to adopt election rules.

“This case is not about whether the Voter ID law is about good public policy. It is instead about whether the Legislature had the authority to enact such a law and the state’s position is that under Article 3, Section 2 of the Wisconsin constitution, it is not prohibited,” Kawski says.

Kawski also argued that the Voter ID requirement would not burden large groups of voters.

“It’s a non discriminatory, universal regulation that applies to all voters. On its face, it doesn’t treat anyone, or single anyone out. There are very limited exceptions for people who do not have to comply with this law,” Kawski says.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, one of the court’s left-leaning judges, wasn’t buying the state’s argument.

“So, everybody is treated equal, everybody can sleep under the bridge or not sleep under the bridge. It’s unfortunate that some are forced to sleep in the streets. So, it may look quite equal, but it’s not in its effect,” Abrahamson says.

While the comments Justices Abrahamson and Gableman made, might have been expected, Justice Pat Roggensack may have caught some by surprise. She is often characterized as a conservative judge, yet seemed to indicate she had doubts about Wisconsin’s Voter ID law.

“Anybody who doesn’t have a birth certificate, it appears from the statute that there’s a requirement that they make a payment and the payment goes to the state. It’s still a payment to the state to be able to vote. That bothers me,” Roggensack says.

The high court is expected to make a decision by June, before its session ends. Meanwhile, two other groups are challenging Voter ID in federal court. Judge Lynn Adelman held a trial in December but has not yet rendered a decision.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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