Battles Over Voting Laws Escalate

Federal Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin Voter ID Law

Following up on my earlier blog, this is how the process is playing out. While the Presidential Commission on Election Administration has made recommendations to improve all voters’ experience in casting their ballots, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress recently introduced a bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, legislators in pivotal swing states have put in place rules and laws that restrict registration and voting. In a striking new tact, though, a federal judge this past week struck down Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to produce state-approved identification cards at polling places invoking a new legal basis: the Voting Rights Act.


Judge Lynn Adelman, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, found that Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment as well as the Voting Rights Act which bars states from establishing rules that restrict a citizen’s right to vote based on race or color. The decision dealt with two lawsuits against Wisconsin officials brought by older residents, college students, and members of minority groups. Judge Adelman opined: “I find that the plaintiffs have shown that the disproportionate impact of the photo ID requirement results from the interaction of the requirement with the effects of past or present discrimination … blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin are disproportionately likely to live in poverty. Individuals who live in poverty are less likely to drive or participate in other activities for which a photo ID may be required (such as banking, air travel, and international travel) and so they obtain fewer benefits from possession of a photo ID than do individuals who can afford to participate in these activities.”  Judge Adelman cited Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in his opinion, a section more often involved in redistricting cases.


The Wisconsin decision came less than a week after a state Circuit Court judge found Arkansas’ voter ID law unconstitutional. The voter ID battle is being played out in 11 other states. Judge Adelman’s finding citing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is sure to be noted by others involved in voter ID challenges including cases in North Carolina and Texas brought by the Department of Justice. Research Design Associates statistical experts have been working with DOJ and voting rights organizations since the later 1980s to assess redistricting plans and voting practices for possible unlawful violations. We use an array of mapping software and statistical tools to assist clients in assessing the impact of changes in district boundaries and voting practices. Our experts have testified about voting issues in federal courts in 12 states.  Current ongoing cases involving Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act include jurisdictions in Alabama, Maryland, and South Dakota.


Supporters of voter ID requirements say that the strict rules prevent potential fraud while opponents say that the strict ID laws really are attempts at suppressing the turnout of Democrats. In his ruling about Wisconsin’s voter ID law known as Act 23, Judge Adelman wrote, “There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID. But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”


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