The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty filed a federal lawsuit against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday, alleging that the state's new voter ID law is unconstitutional.
The law, which was passed by the Republican-led state legislature in May, requires voters to present a state-issued photo ID when they cast ballots in federal, state and local elections. Other photo IDs, such as technical college and veteran ID cards, cannot be used.
Proponents of the law claim it will prevent voter fraud, but the ACLU says it deprives many citizens of their basic right to vote and imposes a de facto poll tax.
A practice run earlier this month found that nearly 20 percent of voters coming to the polls did not have a valid photo ID with them.
“The state of Wisconsin has created a voter ID system that is making it very hard or impossible for residents to exercise their cherished right to vote,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
“Countless Wisconsin residents, including veterans, minority voters and seniors who have been voting for decades, will be turned away from the polls under this law’s restrictive photo ID requirements. Our lawsuit aims to block this unconstitutional law so that Wisconsin can continue its proud tradition of high participation in elections.”
After passage of the voter ID law, Walker called for the closure of as many as 16 DMV offices, mainly in Democratic-leaning areas. After intense public backlash, he reversed himself, expanding the DMV and adding operating hours in some offices to accommodate increased demand for ID cards — at a cost of $6 million over the previously allotted budget.
Democrats argue that voter ID laws are unnecessary due to a complete lack of evidence of any organized voter fraud scheme. They say it unfairly targets students, the poor, people with disabilities and the elderly, who are more likely to not have a photo ID and also tend to support Democrats over Republicans.
Eighty-four-year-old Ruthelle Frank, for instance, is unable to vote under Wisconsin's law because she does not have a birth certificate. When she was born at home in 1927, her mother recorded her birth in the family Bible.
“I have exercised my right to vote in every election since 1948,” Frank said. “I should not suddenly be barred from voting just because I don’t believe in paying for identification in order to vote. That’s like a poll tax and sends this country back decades ago when it comes to civil rights.”
The lawsuit claims the voter ID law is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It also states that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board plans to spend nearly $250,000 on a TV and radio campaign to educate residents about the new law.
Photo credit: Megan McCormick