by Guest Contributor Elise Helgesen of FairVote
On March 6th, the Wisconsin Circuit Court in Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP v. Walker, granted a temporary injunction preventing the state from enforcing a voter ID law in the upcoming primary election. Then, on March 13, a second Circuit Court judge struck down the same voter ID law in League of Women Voters v. Walker. The courts proceeded with similar, yet differentiated, analyses of the law in finding that Act 23, Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law, was unconstitutional based on the Wisconsin Constitution’s affirmative right to vote – a right unfortunately not found in the U.S. Constitution.
The holdings of these two cases are important in looking to other states’ voter ID laws. For courts to hold that the right to vote is fundamental, the right to vote must be stated unequivocally in each states’ constitution, and it must be explicitly protected from legislation trying to abridge that right. FairVote supports an amendment creating an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. If the right to vote were incorporated not only into every state constitution, but also into the U.S. Constitution, governments would have to prove that such forms of voter ID laws are necessary to a compelling state interest. To justify restrictive voter ID laws that unduly burden qualified voters’ constitutional right to take cast their ballots the legislature would need to put forth a more narrowly tailored regulation – one which did not effectively disenfranchise eligible voters.
Both courts were clear that Act 23 was unlawful; however, both were also clear that voter ID laws could be upheld under different circumstances. The court in League of Women Voters v. Walker stated that, “this court does not hold that photo ID requirements under all circumstances and in all forms are unconstitutional per se. Rather, the holding is simply that the disqualification of qualified electors from casting votes in any election where they do not timely produce photo ID’s satisfying Act 23’s requirements violates Article III, Sections 1 and 2 the Wisconsin Constitution.” Likewise, NAACP v. Walker distinguished Act 23 from other voter ID laws because Act 23 was overly restrictive and did not allow for alternative means of proving identification or of casting a provisional ballot. Continue reading