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7 Things You Need to Know About the Wisconsin Voter ID Decision

by Debbie Sharnak, published

A national discussion regarding the state of civil rights in the U.S. exploded after racial comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling were made public, followed by news that he has been banned for life from the NBA.

However, another story broke on the same day NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held his press conference that might be even more important for the future of civil rights in the country: a federal court struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law.

The law first passed in 2011, as a measure which members of the Wisconsin GOP explained would “deter or prevent fraud by making it harder to impersonate a voter and cast a ballot in his or her name without detection.” The law required that residents of Badgerland bring a state-issued ID to the voting booth, which could be obtained at the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles for any residents that did not have one already.

Georgia, India, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas all have passed similar laws, which are currently in effect. Recently, in addition to Wisconsin, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Virginia all passed laws that would also require a photo ID at the voter booth.

Opponents of the law, however, claimed that the law put an unfair burden on older and low-income citizens, particularly minorities. These groups are said to face circumstances that make it difficult to obtain an ID, such as poverty and geographic isolation. For these reasons, they claim that voter ID puts an unjustified burden on the right to vote. Judge Lynn Adelman agreed and struck down the law in a momentous decision from the Wisconsin federal district court.

Here are seven important facts about the ruling that every citizen should know more about as the battle over these laws continues across the country:

  1. Despite being passed in 2011, the law was not in effect for the 2012 elections since a state court blocked the law as a violation of the Wis. Constitution. An appeal brought the issue before the federal court.
  2. Judge Adelman ruled that the voter ID law violated the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Fourteenth Amendment: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." Voting Rights Act, Section 2 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.
  3. The voter ID law could have changed the elections in 2010 if it had been in place. Judge Adelman found that “300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin -- roughly 9 percent of registered voters -- lacked the government-issued ID required by the state to cast a ballot. She wrote that “in 2010 the race for governor in Wisconsin was decided by 124,638 votes, and the race for United States Senator was decided by 105,041 votes. Thus, the number of registered voters who lack a qualifying ID is large enough to change the outcome of Wisconsin elections.”
  4. In Wisconsin, African Americans and Latino voters would have been most affected by the law. “African American voters in Wisconsin were 1.7 times as likely as white voters to lack a matching driver’s license or state ID and that Latino voters in Wisconsin were 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack these forms of identification.”
  5. In Wisconsin elections between 2004-2012, Adelman found only one case of in-person voter fraud that an ID would have prevented: a man applied and cast a vote for his recently deceased wife.
  6. It was the first time that a voter ID law was struck down under Section 2 of the Voting Rights act or the federal constitution. Previously, if a voter ID law had been struck down, it was on the basis of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision which the Supreme Court said was no longer necessary in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder.
  7. Similar cases are pending before courts in Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, making them the next states to watch in the national battle over Voter ID laws.

The reactions over the law were decidedly mixed. A spokeswoman for Governor Scott Walker reacted to the ruling in the statement that said Walker believes "the voter ID law is Constitutional and will ultimately be upheld.” Proponents of the law, however, celebrated. State Democratic Senator Lena Taylor tweeted that it was “great news for democracy”!

 Photo Credit: Suzanne Tucker /

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