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Federal Trial Begins on Laws Related to Wisconsin Voting Rules

Another chapter is unfolding in the battle over the voter laws Republican legislators approved in Wisconsin in recent years. A number of courts have weighed in, ultimately affirming the state’s ability to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Now, a federal trial begins Monday, challenging other laws surrounding voting rules, and pushing for the photo ID requirement to be tweaked, for some residents. Plenty of interested parties will be awaiting the trial’s outcome.

While the establishment of photo ID has been the highest profile measure, Republicans have passed a number of other voting laws, in the last five years -- after they took control of the Legislature and the governor's office. Scot Ross says many of those measures are being challenged in the case that goes to trial today.

“They’ve increased the period of time that a person has to be a resident in order to vote. They’ve eliminated straight ticket voting. They’ve limited the number of early voting sites that a jurisdiction can have to only one per municipality,” Ross says.

Ross heads the political action group, One Wisconsin Institute. It challenged Wisconsin’s photo ID law in federal court in Madison, and is the party bringing the suit in federal court today. Ross says all the voting restrictions Republicans have passed have devastated certain communities.

“Governor Walker and the Republicans have tried to limit the vote for people they don’t want to see go to the polls. Those are younger people, those are elderly people, those are minorities,” Ross says.

Part of what One Wisconsin Institute also will argue today is that voters should be able to use a broader range of IDs. One person who'll be watching the trial is Christine Neumann-Ortiz, head of the immigrant rights group, Voces de la Frontera. I met her at her office on Milwaukee’s near south side; it serves as the epicenter for voter education efforts.

Neumann-Ortiz says she would like to see every form of veterans identification accepted at the polls. Right now, veterans may only use one type of ID, and Neumann-Ortiz says that can shut people out.

“One example is this ex-vet, who voted all of his life and under this new requirement, the type of Veterans ID that he had was not on the official list. So, he had to fall back on his birth certificate, but there was an error that was generated many years ago, and this became a big burden in terms of cost and time,” Neumann-Ortiz says. “The integrity of each and every vote cast in the state of Wisconsin is imperative,” Walker says.

That’s Gov. Walker, when he signed the photo ID bill into law. He says the voting rules are designed to prevent fraud at the polls. Fellow GOP lawmaker, state Sen. Van Wanggaard, also defends the restrictions.

“You have to have consistency in the voting process and you have to have integrity in the process,” Wanggaard says.

Wanggaard helped push photo ID through the Legislature in 2011. He wanted to file a Friend of the Court brief in the case the court is taking up today, but the judge denied his request, along with several others. Yet, Wanggaard says he would be open to "reasonably" expanding the list of acceptable IDs voters can show at the polls.

“If they want to bring forward other types of identification that they think might be something that would be acceptable, then I wouldn’t have a problem looking at those types of identification,” Wanggaard says.

Wanggaard and other Republicans continue to maintain that Wisconsin's voter laws are designed to protect the rights of legitimate voters...rather than to prevent certain groups from voting.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.