May 30, 2013 – Reversing the Dane County Circuit Court, a state appeals court today upheld a Wisconsin law that requires election voters to show photo identification, another snare in the tangled fight over Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law.
The ruling does not end the issue. The voter ID law is still blocked by another Dane County Circuit Court ruling in Wisconsin Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker, which is pending in the District II Court of Appeals. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied requests for fast-track review of both cases before the November 2012 elections.
The Wisconsin Legislature enacted the voter ID law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, two years ago. The law immediately faced legal challenges. In League of Women Voters, a Dane County Circuit Court judge declared the law facially unconstitutional under the state constitution.
The appeals court originally certified the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but the court denied review, sending the case back to the appeals court for a decision. That decision came today, and will likely be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In League of Women Voters of Wisconsin v. Walker, 2012AP584-AC (May 30, 2013), a three-judge panel for the District IV Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded that the League of Women Voters failed “to carry its heavy burden of overcoming the presumption that the photo identification requirement is, on its face, constitutional.”
To overcome the presumption that statutes are constitutional, the panel explained, a challenger must show the statute is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonpartisan political organization established in 1920, argued primarily that Act 23 creates an additional qualification to vote, and places an unconstitutional burden on otherwise qualified voters.
But the appeals court ruled that the legislature may enact rules to determine whether voters are qualified to vote, and there was no evidence presented to support the argument that requiring ID would put unreasonable burdens on voters.
“The League does not develop any argument or rely on any evidence, expert or otherwise, establishing the anticipated effects of the requirement on particular persons or groups,” wrote Judge Brian Blanchard for the three-judge panel.
Article III Arguments Fail
The Wisconsin Constitution (Art. III, § 1) requires a “qualified elector” to be a U.S. citizen, a Wisconsin resident, and be 18 years of age or older. The League of Women Voters argued that requiring photo ID to vote adds a new qualification.
But the court of appeals explained that “the legislature does not create an impermissible ‘additional qualification’ when it requires a potential voter to provide proof that he or she is a person who has registered to vote,” examining three cases from the 1800s.
In addition, the court noted that laws cannot unreasonably burden the right of qualified voters to vote, but the voter ID law, on its face, does not unreasonably burden voters.
“[T]he League’s argument that the requirement will result in some otherwise-qualified voters being unable to cast a valid ballot solely because they fail to comply with the requirement could be said of any number of indisputably facially valid voting regulations,” wrote Judge Blanchard, noting other voting rules.
Legal Wrangling Will Continue
Separate challenges to Act 23 are also pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Motions to block the voter ID law were filed in both cases, but no decisions have been entered, according to Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
“While today’s decision is an important step toward full vindication of the law, we recognize that other challenges are still pending that address different issues,” Van Hollen said in a press release. “We will continue to defend the law and look forward to favorable decisions in those other cases as well.”