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Status of Wisconsin Voter ID Lawsuits

Voters do NOT have to display a photo ID in order to receive a regular ballot and have it counted in the November 4, 2014 election. On October 9, 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the federal court injunction on implementation of the Wisconsin voter ID law. Find accurate information about voting from the Government Accountability Board here:

Wisconsin’s voter ID law (2011 Wisconsin Act 23) was passed in 2011 and 
was challenged by four lawsuits - two in state court and two in federal court. 

BACKGROUND:  In October 2011 the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit in state court
, claiming that the state legislature violated the Suffrage section (Article III) of the Wisconsin state constitution when it impermissibly enacted a law that added a new qualification for voting. The new requirement could disenfranchise otherwise qualified citizens, even if they are registered voters. A separate lawsuit was filed in state court by two other civil rights groups, NAACP Milwaukee Chapter and Voces de la Frontera. That challenge claims the law violates not only the Suffrage section but also the constitutional equality provisions by imposing unreasonable burdens on the right to vote which are tantamount to a denial of the right to vote.

The League won a injunction on the law in Dane County Circuit Court on March 12, 2012, and the other case won a separate injunction a couple of months later. The State appealed both rulings, and the cases were assigned to two separate districts of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The injunction in the League of Women Voters case was reversed in May 2013 by the Appeals Court District IV. The League petitioned the state Supreme Court for a review of that ruling, which we believe is flawed.

On July 31, 2014 the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in both cases, finding the law to be constitutional. However, in the NAACP case the court majority "crafted a "saving construction" of the voter ID law to keep it from being unconstitutional. That was aimed at preventing the state from requiring voters to pay any government fees to get a state-issued ID card." 

There are also two lawsuits in federal court – one filed by The Advancement Project and the other by the ACLU and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty on behalf of 25 voters. Both were assigned to Judge Lynn Adelman, and a trial was held in November 2013. The Advancement Project case is the first challenge to a voter ID law based on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws. The ACLU lawsuit includes constitutional claims as well as a Section 2 challenge. Read about the trial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and/or Bloomberg News. In April 2014, Judge Adelman ruled that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  See his ruling here.  On May 13, Attorney General Van Hollen appealed the case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. He requested a stay of the injunction during the appeal, but that was denied. Oral arguments were held September 12, and the 7th Circuit stayed the injunction, allowing the law to be enforced in the November 4 election. On October 6, the 7th Circuit ruled the law to be constitutional. On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the injunction on implementation of the ID law in response to an appeal by plaintiffs stating that the September 12 ruling lifting the injunction just 7 weeks before the election would lead to disenfranchisement. 

Impact of the League of Women Voters' voter ID lawsuit:  Because of the injunctions won in state court, no Wisconsin voters were disenfranchised by the voter ID law in five elections in 2012 and 2013, including the high-turnout Presidential election. 

Click here
for a list of pending election law litigation cases in various states compiled by Election Law @ Moritz (The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law). Click here for a compilation of state voter ID requirements and legislation by National Conference of State Legislatures.

This page is reviewed weekly and updated when there is news.

Updated October 13, 2014.

Copyright League of Women Voters of Wisconsin