Wisconsin AG seeks stay in voting rights case

Wisconsin’s attorney general on Aug. 3 filed a motion seeking a stay of a federal ruling against parts of the state’s voter ID law and other Republican-backed limits on voting.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, in its filing, said the federal injunction and ruling issued July 29 in One Wisconsin v. Thomsen require “a vast overhaul of Wisconsin’s election procedures.”

The state wants a stay of the injunction pending an expected review at the federal appeals court level.

“Not staying the current injunction would cause major disruption and voter confusion that would require changes to election procedures and informing the public of those changes, only to have the procedures change back,” read a statement from Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s office.


Back and forth

To date, there’s been a lot of back and forth in the fights over GOP-driven changes to Wisconsin voting and election laws, changes modeled after draft legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council-backed by the Koch brothers and other influential conservatives.

Proponents of the measures say they are needed to curtail voting fraud.

Critics of the measures say the intent is to make it more difficult for people who tend to vote Democratic — specifically people of color and students — to cast ballots. And Republicans have admitted as much in party memos.


One Wisconsin’s case

In late July, in a development in One Wisconsin v. Thomsen, U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson issued a sweeping 119-page ruling declaring unconstitutional parts of the state voter ID law, as well as reduced opportunity for in-person absentee voting and longer residency requirements.

Peterson said legislators tailored the restrictions to “suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”

Wisconsin has the authority to regulate elections and the responsibility to ensure election integrity, but the judge dismissed the state’s assertion that the restrictive laws are intended to prevent fraud.

“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” Peterson wrote. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

Parts of the measures enacted since Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office fail to meet the constitutional guarantee of fair and open elections, the judge said, calling the system for providing IDs a “wretched failure.”

He ordered the state to act to ensure that anyone eligible to vote can cast a ballot.

A look at the impact of Peterson’s ruling on the Nov. 8 general election:

  • Restrictions on early voting are overturned, except the day before the election.
  • Restrictions on the number of early voting locations are overturned.
  • The extension of the residency requirement from 10 days to 28 days is invalidated.
  • The voter ID petition process for acquiring an ID without basic documents must be replaced.
  • Some rules dealing with the use of student IDs and dorm lists are invalidated.
  • The prohibition against distributing absentee ballots by fax or email is overturned.


Reaction to the ruling

Walker, in a statement, called Peterson an “activist federal judge” and said he was disappointed.

“ Voters support common-sense measures to protect the integrity of our votes,” Walker stated. “Voting should be easy but cheating should be hard.”

At One Wisconsin Now, executive director Scot Ross said Walker tried to make it harder for Democrats to vote and easier for Republicans to cheat.

“And the judge agreed,” Ross said.

Ross hailed Peterson’s decision as a “huge victory” and pledged to see the case through the courts.

Citizen Acton of Wisconsin Education Fund joined One Wisconsin Now in the challenge to the GOP laws.

Citizen Action said Peterson’s finding that the voting restrictions violate the 15th Amendment a bombshell.

“The willingness of conservative politicians to deliberately disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, young people and many others for crass partisan advantage is an affront to the fundamental principles of American democracy,” Citizen Action executive director Robert Kraig said.

Earlier in July and in a separate case, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman issued an order against the state voter ID law. Adelman said in the Nov. 8 election, people having trouble obtaining ID cards must be allowed to sign an affidavit to vote.

The state also will appeal this finding.


In other states

Elsewhere this summer, courts blocked North Dakota’s law requiring photo IDs to vote, halted strict citizenship voting requirements in Kansas and declared unconstitutional the anti-voting laws in Texas and North Carolina.

North Carolina’s legislation imposed stringent ID requirements, reduced same-day registration and constrained out-of-precinct voting.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

“And it sent a message that contradicted some of the most basic principles of our democracy,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “The ability of Americans to have a voice in the direction of their country — to have a fair and free opportunity to help write the story of this nation — is fundamental to who we are and who we aspire to be.”