Judge Holds Voter ID Law Unconstitutional
Logan Carlson
lcarl555@uwsp.edu
For the second time in as many weeks, a judge has stopped the implementation of the voter ID bill that was signed into law last summer.
 
On Monday, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess declared Act 23, the controversial voter ID law, violated the state constitution. The bill is likely to remain blocked in Dane County during upcoming elections.
 
“Its photo ID requirements impermissibly eliminate the right of suffrage altogether for certain constitutionally qualified electors,” Niess wrote in his legal opinion. “The right to vote belongs to all Wisconsin citizens who are qualified electors, not just the majority for whom Act 23 poses little obstacle at the polls.”
 
“As a matter of law under the Wisconsin Constitution, sacrificing a qualified elector’s right to vote is not a reasonable exercise of the government’s prerogative to regulate elections,” Niess noted.
 
The League of Women Voters, the plaintiffs in the Dane Co. lawsuit against Act 23, issued a statement saying they were delighted with the court’s ruling.
 
“We are proud to have launched a legal challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which erected barriers to citizen participation in government,” the statement said.
 
“Voting is not like cashing a check or getting on an airplane. Those activities are not protected by the constitution,” said Melanie Ramey, state president of the League of Women Voters. “Voting is one way in which all citizens are equal, and that is worth fighting for.”
 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says he plans on appealing Monday’s decision. “Wisconsin’s voter ID law is consistent with the constitution, and I will appeal this decision,” he said in a statement.
 
“Proponents of voter ID still can’t point to one case of voter impersonation in our state, and that is the only kind of illegal voting an ID law could prevent. The real fraud is the way they have convinced people that voter ID could actually solve real problems,” Ramey said.
 
In a statement released last week opposing the NAACP’s lawsuit against the law, State Senate President Scott Fitzgerald said, “Photo ID is a reasonable requirement to make sure that your vote isn’t cancelled out by someone else’s fraud.”
Fitzgerald says that Act 23 is important because it is a safeguard for the electoral process, pointing to the number of signatures thrown out during the recall process.
 
“With as many questionable signatures, multiple signers and convicted felons as we’ve already seen in the recall process, it makes more sense now than ever to make sure our elections are clean going forward,” Fitzgerald said.
As of Monday, the Government Accountability Board has disqualified about 25,000 out of the million signatures submitted to recall Governor Scott Walker.
 
Judge Niess rejected this argument in his ruling Monday, admonishing what he sees as legislative overreach.
“The people’s fundamental right of suffrage preceded and gave birth to our constitution, not the other way around. Until the people’s vote approved the Constitution, the legislature had no authority to regulate anything, let alone elections,” Niess said.
 
Niess concluded that “A government that undermines the very foundation of its existence – the people’s inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote – imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people. It sows the seeds for its own demise as a democratic institution.”
 
The decision Monday follows a temporary injunction issued by Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan in the NAACP’s lawsuit against the Act 23, pending trial. In that lawsuit, Flanagan held that the NAACP has a high probability of succeeding in its lawsuit, which is scheduled after the April presidential primary.
 
In deciding to prohibit the Act 23 from being enforced before a full trial can be held, Flanagan said, “Act 23 will likely exclude from the election process a significant portion of Wisconsin voters who are qualified under our constitution to participate in this process,” which would result in “a clearly improper impairment of a most vital element of our society [to] occur.” 
 
Van Hollen has requested that Flanagan stay his injunction, pending an appeal of his decision.