Trial Begins in ACLU Challenge to Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law
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MILWAUKEE — A federal trial gets under way today that will hear the ACLU’s challenge to Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law.
The law burdens the elderly, students, people with disabilities, and low-income and homeless voters. It also disproportionally harms minority voters. People must present a certain type of photo ID, which many eligible voters do not have. In addition, many photo ID alternatives are excluded. For example, the law does not allow veteran ID cards.
“This law robs many Wisconsin citizens of their most fundamental right — the right to vote,” said Karyn Rotker, ACLU of Wisconsin senior staff attorney.
In 2011, the ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the firm of Dechert LLP filed the lawsuit, Frank v. Walker, on behalf of several Wisconsin residents, including Shirley Brown, a 75-year-old African-American woman who was born at home in Louisiana and whose birth certificate does not exist. Brown, who has voted in Wisconsin for decades, was denied an ID because she did not have a birth certificate. DMV rejected a statement from her elementary school attesting to her birth, even though Medicare accepted the statement.
Another Wisconsin resident, Ruthelle Frank, 86, never had a Wisconsin driver’s license or ID, and does not have a copy of her birth certificate. When she tried to obtain an ID to vote, she discovered she would have to pay to get her birth certificate and that the document contained errors that might make it unusable to obtain ID. Frank herself is an elected official, having served on her village board since 1996.
“I have exercised my right to vote since 1948,” Frank said when the lawsuit was filed. “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, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, charges the Wisconsin law violates the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. According to the lawsuit, the voter ID law:
- Violates the Constitution because it unreasonably burdens Wisconsin voters and results in the arbitrary treatment of voters trying to get a state ID card.
- Unreasonably prevents veterans with Veterans Administration ID cards from using these IDs to vote, and arbitrarily prevents students with certain types of student ID cards from using those IDs as photo ID.
- Has a disproportionate negative impact on racial minorities. Research commissioned by the ACLU indicates the law disproportionately affects Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to lack photo ID accepted for voting in Wisconsin.
“All Wisconsin citizens have the right to vote — regardless of their race, where they live or how much money they make,” said Jeremy Rosen, legal director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “This law would disenfranchise many homeless and other low-income people, including homeless veterans.”
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said, “The people of Wisconsin must be allowed to exercise their fundamental right to vote free of discriminatory government interference, which is why this law needs to be struck down.”
More information about this case available at:
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