Frank v. Walker: Fighting Voter Suppression in Wisconsin
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit charging that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of their most fundamental constitutional right – the right to vote. Voter ID laws are the most common type of voter suppression legislation moving through state legislatures across the country as part of a nationwide attack on the right to vote.
The original complaint states that the law imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and in violation of the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax on eligible voters.
Ruthelle Frank is an 84-year-old resident of Brokaw, Wisconsin, where she has served on the Village Board since 1996. She is an eligible voter registered to vote in Wisconsin. She has no accepted form of photo ID under the photo ID law and lacks a certified copy of her birth certificate, which she needs to prove citizenship to the Wisconsin DMV. Ms. Frank was born at her home in Brokaw in 1927. Though she has never had a birth certificate in her possession, the state Register of Deeds has a record of her birth and can produce a certified copy of her birth certificate, but at a cost. The record on file, however, has an incorrect spelling of her maiden name: Wedepohl, and is consequently an unacceptable form of identification. The process to correct the birth certificate is lengthy and costly, with some reports suggesting it might require $200 or more. She has voted in every election since 1948 and intends to vote in Wisconsin again next year.
Carl Ellis is a 52-year-old resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and an eligible voter. A veteran of the United States Army, Mr. Ellis is currently living in a homeless shelter for veterans and has no income or savings. Mr. Ellis has no accepted form of photo ID under the photo ID law and lacks a certified copy of his birth certificate from the Illinois Department of Public Health's Vital Records Office. Given his financial circumstances, Mr. Ellis cannot afford to pay for a certified copy of his Illinois birth certificate. He does, however, possess a Veterans Identification Card, which is issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and contains his name and photograph. Under the new law, however, the state of Wisconsin will not accept his Veterans ID card as an acceptable form of identification in order to vote. He intends to vote in Wisconsin next year.
Barbara Oden is a 57-year-old resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and an eligible voter. Ms. Oden has no accepted form of photo ID under Wisconsin's new photo ID law, and does not have a certified copy of her birth certificate and a Social Security Card. She needs these documents to prove citizenship and identity to the Wisconsin DMV in order to obtain a free state ID card. She was denied a Social Security Card by an employee at the Social Security Administration office, who informed her that she must present a photo ID in order to obtain a Social Security Card.
The ACLU's lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's voter ID law has been amended to include charges that the law illegally blocks minorities and veterans from accessing the ballot box. The filing today supplements a federal challenge against one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation and on behalf of a broad spectrum of plaintiffs, including White, Black and Latino voters, homeless and low-income citizens, veterans and students.
The amended complaint charges the voter ID law:
• Violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans the use of voting practices that have a disparate negative impact on racial and language minorities. Research commissioned by the ACLU indicates the law has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to lack photo ID accepted for voting in Wisconsin.
• Arbitrarily prevents veterans who only have a Veterans Administration ID card from voting. Wisconsin deems such identification unacceptable.
• Violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because Wisconsin's photo ID law results in the arbitrary treatment of voters trying to get a state ID card.
Eddie Lee Holloway Jr.'s birth certificate says Eddie Junior Holloway and as a result he is no longer able to vote in the state of Wisconsin. DMV employees tell him that his birth certificate is an unacceptable form of ID because the name on it reads "Eddie Junior Holloway," due to a decades-old clerical error. It doesn't matter to the DMV that his father's name — "Eddie Lee Holloway" — is printed on his birth certificate, and that Eddie has a Social Security Card and an expired Illinois photo ID both bearing the name "Eddie L Holloway Jr". Eddie says, "I never miss voting" and has rarely missed a chance to cast a ballot since he was 18. He worked in Illinois for years as a cook at the airport and Claire's Family Restaurant, and he cooked in nursing homes too. Years of heavy lifting and hard work left him severely disabled, unemployed, and homeless — in that order. He now lives with his mother in Milwaukee but cannot secure the disability benefits and medical attention he so badly needs due to a lack of photo ID.