Wisconsin election officials were scrambling on Sept. 15 to deal with a federal appeals court’s ruling reinstating the requirement that voters show photo identification when casting ballots.
The law had been on hold, after being in effect only for the low-turnout February 2012 primary, following a series of court orders blocking it. But a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, just hours after hearing oral arguments, said late on Sept. 12 that the state could proceed with implementing the law while it weighs the merits of the case.
The decision came after a federal judge’ ruling in April struck down the law as an unconstitutional burden on poor and minority voters who may lack the required identification.
The biggest immediate issue is what to do about more than 11,800 absentee ballots that have already been requested, and perhaps returned, without the voter showing the required identification, Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney said Monday.
The law requires people to submit photocopies of their IDs when requesting absentee ballots by mail, something that those who made their requests before Friday’s ruling didn’t have to do.
In Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, about 8,000 absentee ballots were requested but have not yet been mailed to voters, said Neil Albrecht, who’s in charge of elections there. Under the law, they have to be sent by Thursday, he said.
“We’re all in a holding pattern right now waiting for clarification,” Albrecht said.
The story is much the same in Green Bay, where about 1,500 requested absentee ballots are sitting in the mailroom, said city clerk Kris Teske.
Magney said elections officials are discussing what steps to take and will release more information soon. One issue being discussed is what clerks need to do to communicate with voters with absentee ballots, Magney said.
The Government Accountability Board told clerks on Sept. 12 not to mail out any more absentee forms until it gets instructions about what forms to send so voters comply with the law.
The board has already posted information on its website about the law, including the types of IDs that will be acceptable at the polls on Nov. 4. Military and permanent overseas voters are exempt from the requirement.
A total of 34 states have passed conservative laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls and 32 of those were in force as of Sept. 12 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Wisconsin would be among nine states with the strictest photo ID laws, the group said.
The federal appeals court ruling, less than two months before the election, sent shockwaves through the state, with Democrats decrying that it will lead to disenfranchising of voters and Republicans saying it would help ensure the system’s integrity.
It’s become an issue in the tight governor’s race. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who signed the requirement into law, is being challenged by Democrat Mary Burke, an opponent of voter ID.
While Walker praised the ruling, Burke’s team launched fundraising pleas warning that Republicans would use it to tamp down the vote.
“Scott Walker knows that we can win, and he believes that efforts to keep voters from getting to the polls is a win for Republicans,” Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said in a fundraising email late Friday.
Zepecki said that Burke, if elected governor, would work to repeal the photo ID requirement and expand early voting hours after Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature limited them.
Walker has said the ruling gives voters confidence in the electoral system and makes it harder to cheat, although repeated studies show that cheating by voters has not been a problem in Wisconsin elections.