There will be no change to Wisconsin’s voting laws before the August primary, including the requirement that photo identification be shown at the polls, a federal judge hearing a challenge to more than a dozen election laws said in late May.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson told attorneys at the beginning of the final day of testimony in the two-week trial that he will make a ruling by the end of July, which won’t leave enough time to enact any changes he may order before the primary where the field of candidates running for a host of state and federal races will be winnowed.
“Obviously I feel urgency in getting the decision out,” Peterson said, adding that he didn’t think it would be realistic to have it done before the end of July. He scheduled final arguments for June 30.
Two liberal groups and voters are challenging more than a dozen voting-related laws signed by Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in the past five years. That includes provisions of the voter ID requirement, particularly the process used to grant free IDs to people who don’t have the required documentation, limitations on early voting times and places and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.
The plaintiffs argue that the laws discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters who are more inclined to vote Democratic. The state Department of Justice, which is defending the laws, argues that they have not suppressed turnout and the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.
At least five primaries in congressional races are expected in the Aug. 9 election, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican challenger Paul Nehlen and contests on both sides in the open 8th Congressional District in northern Wisconsin. There will also be at least 23 state Assembly districts and seven state Senate races. The deadline for candidates to submit required paperwork to get on the ballot was this week.
The winners will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.
“There’s no way the decision will have an impact on the August election,” Peterson said. He also said he expected his ruling to be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but didn’t say whether he would put it on hold until there is a final determination, perhaps by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m sure whatever I do will make one side or the other unhappy,” Peterson said. “There’s a god chance everyone will be unhappy, which I guess will be justice.”
Testimony in the case has relied heavily on experts on both sides presenting conflicting evidence about the effect of the laws on turnout both generally and among minorities. The former chief of staff to then-Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican, testified that GOP state senators were “giddy” about passing the voter ID law because they saw it as increasing their chances of winning elections.
Defenders of the law, including Walker and Republican lawmakers, have said publicly that their goal was to make elections more secure and combat voter fraud. But evidence presented at trial showed there are very few documented cases of voter fraud. Election clerks from Republican parts of the state also testified that they experienced no significant problems running elections under the new laws, including the photo ID requirement.
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