Voting? No Photo ID Required, Yet by Senator
“I haven’t voted in three years,” a Galesville fairgoer told me this
summer. He leaned up against the pole barn at the Trempealeau County
Fair and shoved his fingers in his pockets. “I don’t want to show up
and be told I can’t vote.”
Changes in voting rules are
confusing. A requirement to have a certain type of photo ID to vote
has been an ‘on again, off again’ law leading up to this election.
On November 4, voters will not be required to show a photo
The U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on Wisconsin’s photo
ID law. The high court made no comment on the law and may rule on it
later. If not, legislators in January may revisit the photo ID law.
But for now, the law is on hold, so the Galesville man should vote
along with every other eligible voter.
In 2011, Wisconsin
passed its restrictive photo ID law. Restrictive because the types of
IDs allowed are limited, requirements on absentee voters are strict
and the number of people potentially unable to vote is high– estimated
Since 2011, the law ping-ponged back and forth
in federal and state courts as one court found it legal while another
declared the law unconstitutional. Most recently the U.S. Supreme
Court halted enforcement of the law but did not issue an opinion on
its final status.
About the same time as the Supreme Court
decision, Judge Richard Posner of the US 7th Circuit Court
of Appeals wrote the dissenting opinion on that court’s tied vote on
taking up an appeal of Wisconsin’s photo ID law before the full
At issue – among others – was whether the Wisconsin
law was similar to an Indiana law upheld by the courts. If the laws of
the two states were similar, presumably Wisconsin’s law could go into
Back in 2011, I argued Wisconsin’s photo ID would
be the strictest in the nation. Since then, Texas passed a stricter
law. But Wisconsin’s law remains one of the most limiting. The
nonpartisan National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently
listed Wisconsin as one of 9 strict photo ID laws nationally.
During debate on the Wisconsin law my Senate colleagues and I who
opposed the law argued courts would find it unconstitutional because
of its restrictive nature and the large of people without acceptable
IDs. Proponents of the law argued it was modeled after Indiana already
upheld by the nation’s highest court.
In his dissent Judge
Posner argued Wisconsin’s law was not comparable to Indiana’s law
except that the laws “belong to the same genre”. With 330,000 voters
lacking required identification and Wisconsin’s law being more
limiting than Indiana, the judge wrote “the effects of the photo
ID requirement on voter suppression are likely to be much greater in
Wisconsin, especially since as we saw earlier its law is stricter than
Indiana’s.” Many people in Wisconsin are concerned
about voter fraud. There are many types of fraud ranging from voting
more than once to ballots that are unsecured. However, Wisconsin has a
history of clean elections with very little documented voter fraud.
A photo ID law is used to address one type of fraud: voter
impersonation. This is when a voter pretends to be someone he or she
In his recent judicial opinion Judge Posner
summarized: “There is compelling evidence that voter impersonation
fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin.” In
conclusion, Judge Posner wrote: “There is only one motivation for
imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage
voter impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud,
and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the
party responsible for imposing the burdens.” Rules
governing voting make a difference in how many people go to the polls.
Wisconsin ranks high among voter participation in elections. For
example, in 2012 Wisconsin ranked second only to Minnesota with 73% of
eligible voters voting; Indiana ranked 40th with 56% of voters going
to the polls.
Voting is a precious right in our democracy.
And Democracy works when large numbers of people are involved on