How Early League Action Stopped Implementation of Wisconsin’s Voter Photo ID Law

Partners’ actions keep voter photo ID off the books for August primary

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

This month marks my 10th year as executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. I’ve been particularly honored to serve the Wisconsin League through the past three challenging years, during which LWVWI has joined with fellow voting rights advocates in battling the state’s restrictive voter photo ID law. Thanks to our work and the work of our coalition partners, the state’s voter photo ID law was in effect for only one election -- a spring primary -- and it is still blocked by a federal injunction. Wisconsin voters will not be required to show ID for the state’s August 2014 primary.

Three years ago, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin challenged the new state law that required registered voters to show photo identification in order to vote. The lawsuit was a bold thing to do, but our State Board knew that the League was the right organization to take this issue on. Fortunately, many agreed with us and provided funds to help us carry out the lawsuit. Our efforts paid off in 2012 when the League’s legal actions stopped the voter photo ID law from being implemented. A Circuit Court judge ruled that under the Wisconsin Constitution, the state legislature does not have the authority to enact a law that creates an additional qualification for voting and disenfranchises otherwise qualified, registered voters. The state appealed that ruling, and the case made its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

How Early League Action Stopped Implementation of Wisconsin’s Voter Photo ID Law

We were disappointed this July when a majority of the justices on the State Supreme Court did not agree with the League or the growing numbers of federal judges who have recently found that strict voter photo ID laws are more likely to prevent thousands of qualified citizens from voting than to deter an extremely small number of potential illegal votes. In a sharply worded dissent, Wisconsin’s Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote, “Today the court follows not James Madison — for whom Wisconsin's capital city is named — but rather Jim Crow, the name typically used to refer to repressive laws used to restrict rights, including the right to vote, of African-Americans.”

Although LWVWI ultimately lost our legal battle, we claim victory because the voter photo ID law has been blocked since March 2012, and it remains blocked by a federal court injunction to this day. We are proud that as a result, no eligible voter in Wisconsin was disenfranchised by the law through the past seven elections, including the 2012 Presidential election. It is also likely that the law will remain blocked through the November 4th election.

The injunction was a significant victory not just for voters in Wisconsin, but for voters in every state that has enacted these restrictive laws. Federal Judge Lynn Adelman got it right when he wrote that there is no evidence of in-person voter impersonation having occurred in Wisconsin. Yet an estimated 300,000 currently registered Wisconsin citizens do not possess one of the short list of acceptable IDs allowed by the Wisconsin voter photo ID law.

When I became executive director of LWVWI 10 years ago, I was in awe of the women who built this organization, and I was blown away by the level of knowledge and commitment around the table at our Legislative Committee meetings. Thankfully, League leaders are also great and patient teachers, and I’ve learned much. I am so grateful for the mentoring, encouragement and financial contributions of our members and supporters in Wisconsin and beyond. Back in 2004, I never dreamed that I would eventually be involved in the level of advocacy that Wisconsin’s voter photo ID lawsuit has demanded. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Efforts to keep our elections free, fair and accessible to all eligible Wisconsin voters are well worth fighting for!

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is a proud member of Community Shares of Wisconsin, a nationwide coalition of grassroots fundraising organizations.