Wisconsin Tackles Voter-ID Law


Both the Milwaukee Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, Inc. in separate lawsuits challenged 2011 Act 23, Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law, in Dane County Superior Court, and both succeeded. The NAACP won after a trial a permanent injunction, an order enjoining implementation or enforcement of the law, and the League won a summary judgment that the law violates Article III Section 1 of the Wisconsin State Constitution. The state appealed both rulings.

Article III Section 1 provides that, “Every United States citizen 18 years of age or older who resides in an election district in Wisconsin is a qualified elector in that district, unless excluded by duly enacted laws barring certain convicted felons or adjudicated incompetents/partially incompetents.” Both Superior Court decisions interpreted this provision to mean that, “The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses those [age and residence] qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily created qualifications not contained in Article III, such as a photo ID.” * Both decisions concluded that only a constitutional amendment can add a photo ID qualification or requirement.

On appeal, the state filed in the NAACP case a petition for leave to appeal and a petition to bypass to proceed directly to the Supreme Court in Madison. That court denied both petitions. The parties completed briefing in January 2013, and the court of appeals set the case for oral argument in December 2013. In the League case, the court of appeals reversed the Superior Court decision in May 2013.

The Court of Appeals addressed and rejected three primary arguments in support of the Superior Court decision in the League’s case: (1) the photo ID requirement is an impermissible “additional qualification” to vote not in Article III, (2) the requirement is unconstitutionally imposes a restriction so burdensome that it effectively denies the right to vote and is therefore “unreasonable,” and (3) the legislature “exceeded the express authority granted to it” under Article III.

The court of appeals concluded that (1) the League had not shown that the photo identification requirement is an “additional qualification” for voting as opposed to a voter registration regulation, (2) no evidence supports the League’s argument that the requirement is so burdensome that it denies the right to vote, and (3) the argument that the legislature exceeded its authority collapses with the League’s concession that the legislature has broad constitutional authority to establish a voting registration system under which election officials may verify the identity of a registered voter.

Then in November 2013, the Supreme Court granted review of the court of appeals opinion in the League case and agreed “in the interest of judicial economy” to hear it together with the NAACP case before any final decision there in the court of appeals.


* Under Article III Section 2, “Implementation,” the legislature may enact statutes “providing for registration of electors.”


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