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Federal appeals court puts hold on voter ID ruling

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put on hold the ruling by a federal judge in Milwaukee saying voters who have trouble obtaining the photo ID required by state law could still cast ballots by signing affidavits affirming their identity.

The panel of three appeals court judges based in Chicago said U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s decision was likely to be reversed on appeal. The judges added that the “disruption of the state’s electoral system in the interim will cause irreparable injury.”

The three judges who wrote the opinion — Frank Easterbrook, Diane Sykes and Michael Kanne — were all appointed by Republican presidents. President Bill Clinton nominated Adelman.

With the appeals court decision, Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls remains in effect for the Nov. 8 presidential election, as it was for the Aug. 9 primary elections.

People having trouble getting IDs will have to go to the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles for credentials to vote. They could not just show up at the polls and sign an affidavit, which would have been allowed under the ruling that was put on hold on Aug. 10.

Wisconsin Republican leaders who supported the photo ID law and fought against the lawsuits challenging it praised the appeals court ruling. Gov. Scott Walker called it a “step in the right direction.”

“Voters in Wisconsin support voter ID, and our administration will continue to work to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Walker said in a statement.

Walker and Republican lawmakers put the voter ID mandate in place in 2011, contending it would combat voter fraud, even though nothing suggests that widespread voter fraud exists in the state. Democrats decried the requirement as an attempt to disenfranchise liberal-leaning voters such as minorities who are more likely to lack IDs.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty asked for the injunction in June. ACLU attorney Sean Young said the voter ID law “guarantees that vulnerable Wisconsin citizens are going to be disenfranchised in November.”

Young said the ACLU was evaluating its options.

Remaining in effect, for the moment at least, is a sweeping 119-page ruling on Wisconsin voting laws.  U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson declared unconstitutional parts of Wisconsin’s voter ID law, as well as a host of other Republican-backed laws limiting days and locations for early voting, 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.”


The GOP-driven changes to Wisconsin election laws are modeled after draft legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is backed by the Koch brothers and other influential and wealthy conservatives.

The 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.

Wisconsin has the authority to regulate elections and the responsibility to ensure election integrity, but Peterson 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,” the federal judge 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 Walker took office fail to meet the constitutional guarantee of fair and open elections, the judge said. He called the system for providing IDs a “wretched failure” and ordered the state to act to ensure that anyone eligible to vote could cast a ballot.

Walker, in a statement, blasted Peterson as an “activist federal judge.”

At One Wisconsin Now, executive director Scot Ross hailed Peterson’s decision as a “huge victory” and pledged to see the case through the courts.

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

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