The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin on Tuesday, alleging the voter ID law signed into law by Governor Walker this summer violates the 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution by imposing a form of a ‘poll tax’ on particular groups of citizens in order to vote.
The lawsuit claims the state is imposing a de-facto poll tax on some citizens who lack the required documents to obtain a free ID card to vote. The state is offering free ID cards, but to get one, citizens must have a copy of a birth certificate, which can cost around $20.
"This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures," said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
Republican lawmakers, and Governor Scott Walker, who are named in the suit as defendants, claim the courts will uphold the constitutionality of the bill.
"The common sense election reforms signed into law earlier this year by Governor Walker are constitutional," said Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker. "Requiring photo identification to vote helps ensure the integrity of our elections - we already require it to get a library card, cold medicine, and public assistance."
The 24th amendment prohibits governments from instituting poll taxes on its citizens in order to vote; such measures were used to limit the rights of African-Americans in the South after the Civil War all the way through the 1960s.
The ACLU lists 17 voters in the lawsuit who they say are unfairly affected under the law, including Ruthelle Frank, an 86-year-old woman from Brokaw, WI, who lacks a birth certificate. The state has a record of her birth, but the doctor misspelt her maiden name, and to fix that, Frank would have to incur fees of around $200 and a weeklong court process.
A 2005 study done by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee estimates that 177,399 Wisconsin residents over the age of 65 currently lack a driver’s license or state photo ID and would be ineligible to vote.
Also listed as a plaintiff is Anna Shea, a 20-year-old junior at Lawrence University who currently has a driver’s license from Colorado. In order for Shea to vote in Wisconsin she would have to surrender her Colorado license to receive a compliant ID card.
Lawrence University student ID cards, like University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point ID cards, currently lack the requirements to be used in elections, namely an issue and expiration date, and the student’s signature. The Government Accountability Board approved on Tuesday the issuing of new IDs for UW System. The UW System Administrators are currently working on making their ID cards compliant with the new regulations for the next elections, and UWSP administrators say they will have them available to students who need them by February 2012.
The ACLU lawsuit differs from the one filed by the League of Women Voters in October. In that lawsuit, which was filed in state court and joined by the United Council of UW Students, the groups claim the voter ID law violates the state constitution by naming a third class of citizens who are ineligible to vote. The UWSP Student Government Association is currently looking into filing an amicus curie brief in favor of the League of Women Voters’ lawsuit.
South Carolina and Texas both passed voter ID laws during the past year, but the federal government is currently looking into whether those laws violate the Voting Rights Act. Under Section 5 of that law, certain states must get federal approval to modify their election practices. Wisconsin does not fall under Section 5 and therefore is not subject to federal approval.