Civil Rights Advocates Step up Challenge of Wis. Voting Rules

With mid-term elections drawing closer, voting rights groups are advancing their efforts to disable voter ID and other laws that, they say, suppresses votes.

In a post-trial brief issued in late December, the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group, continued its campaign to nullify Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law, Act 23, using Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as its basis.

The lawsuit, the merits of which were argued in a Nov. 4-15 bench trial before U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee, was the first challenge of its kind since the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of Section 5 of the VRA in June 2013.

Adelman, who didn’t make a ruling at the time, gave the opposing parties a month to make post-trial arguments.

Advancement Project and co-counsel Arnold & Porter, who represented four groups that represent minority voters, urged the judge to issue a permanent injunction against Act 23, arguing that it was an “engine of discrimination,” reminiscent of voter suppression laws of the segregation era.

“Wisconsin has long been recognized as the Selma of the North and this case illustrates just why the Midwestern state bears this harrowing distinction,” said James Eichner, the group’s managing director for programs, in a statement. “Wisconsin’s discriminatory voter ID law is virtually indistinguishable from Jim Crow laws of earlier eras which required poll taxes, property requirements, literacy tests and other contrived, racist measures designed to prevent African Americans from voting.”

In the post-trial brief, Advancement Project attorneys said the law would have a disproportionate impact on minority voters, citing experts who showed that based on the state’s 2013 data, African-Americans are at least 40 percent more likely than Whites to lack a driver’s license or state ID, while Latino voters are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to lack one.

The disparity could result in the abridgement of those voters’ right to vote, the brief posited.

“African American and Latino voters are more likely to be unable to vote, to face additional burdens to vote, or to have their ability to vote determined in the discretion of individual poll workers, who will decide whether they may participate in Wisconsin’s elections,” it stated “And they are more likely to be denied the vote outright by Act 23.”

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 23 into law in 2011. The measure’s supporters say it is necessary to protect against voter fraud.

On March 12, 2012, Circuit Judge Richard Niess declared Act 23’s photo ID requirements “unconstitutional to the extent they serve as a condition for voting at the polls." The judge also permanently enjoined the defendants "from any further implementation or enforcement of those provisions."

Adelman’s ruling on whether to permanently ban Wisconsin’s voter ID law could have ripple effects on other states, where voter ID and other election laws are being challenged.

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Civil Rights Advocates Step up Challenge of Wis. Voting Rules


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