Frank v. Walker: Fighting Voter Suppression in Wisconsin

March 26, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit charging that Wisconsin's voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of the right to vote, as provided under the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. On April 29, 2014, the district court struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law, but on October 6, a divided appellate court reversed the ruling. On January 7, 2015, the ACLU filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling and to hear this case of paramount importance. On March 23, 2015, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The ACLU immediately filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court to keep the law from taking effect for the April election. Later that same day, state officials announced they would delay the law's implementation through that election.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law is among the most restrictive in the nation, requiring voters to produce one of a few specified forms of photo identification in order to vote. This restriction 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. In addition, it 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.

Ruthelle Frank

Ruthelle Frank is a resident of Brokaw, Wisconsin, where she has served on the Village Board since 1996. She was born at her home in Brokaw in 1927. 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. 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.

Eddie Lee Holloway, Jr.

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 told 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 was never able to obtain a Wisconsin photo ID.

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