2016 Election Uncertainty Continues As Wisconsin Appeals Voter ID Decision


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The State of Wisconsin has filed an “emergency motion” [PDF] to “stay” or temporarily block a federal court decision that found Wisconsin’s Voter ID law unconstitutional and struck down many of its provisions. The motion was submitted to a federal appeals court that is reviewing the decision.

BACKGROUND OF THE MOST RECENT CASE

The case is called One Wisconsin Institute v. Thomsen. One Wisconsin Institute is a think-tank. Mark L. Thomsen is the chairman of the recently-created Elections Commission.

On July 29, after a nine-day trial, Federal District Court Judge James D. Peterson wrote in the decision [PDF]:

I find that 2013 Wis. Act 146, restricting hours for in-person absentee voting, intentionally discriminates on the basis of race. I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose… The legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans. (6)

Evidence was presented showing that the vast majority of those denied IDs were African-Americans or Puerto Ricans — groups that had suffered from legal discrimination in the recent past.

The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease. (4)

No evidence was presented suggesting any serious voter impersonation fraud — except one bizarre case where a man supporting governor Scott Walker voted over a dozen times. He was caught.

The judge wrote a whopping 119-page decision, including a 13-point order which was summarized in bullet points by Wisconsin Gazette:

  • Restrictions on early voting are overturned, except the day before the election.
  • Restrictions on the number of early voting locations are overturned.
  • The extension of the residency requirement from 10 days to 28 days is invalidated.
  • The voter ID petition process for acquiring an ID without basic documents must be replaced.
  • Some rules dealing with the use of student IDs and dorm lists are invalidated.
  • The prohibition against distributing absentee ballots by fax or email is overturned.

Wisconsin Gazette also pointed out:

To date, there’s been a lot of back and forth in the fights over GOP-driven changes to Wisconsin voting and election laws, changes modeled after draft legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council-backed by the Koch brothers and other influential conservatives.

Both parties appealed. One Wisconsin Institute wanted the entire voter ID thrown out, while the State of Wisconsin wanted to keep all of the voter restrictions in.

STATE ATTEMPTS TO STAY THE DECISION

Then, the State of Wisconsin asked the judge for a “stay” pending appeal. The state wanted the judge to wait to implement the 13-point order while an appeals court looks at the matter. The court decided [PDF]:

IT IS ORDERED that defendants’ motion to stay the court’s permanent injunction pending appeal, Dkt. 241, is DENIED in substantial part. As explained above, only the provisions of the injunction requiring the state to reform its IDPP [ID petition process] within 30 days of the date of the court’s opinion on the merits are STAYED pending the outcome of the parties’ appeals. The rest of the injunction remains in effect.

In other words, all but one of the bullet-points above will remain in effect. “The voter ID petition process for acquiring an ID without basic documents must be replaced,” but it can stand now with previously made modifications. Affidavits for those without ID may not be permitted. Everyone must use the DMV ID petition process.

STATE ISSUES A MISLEADING PRESS RELEASE

Despite losing most points on the “stay,” the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice announced in a press release:

Today, the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin granted a partial stay of a recent ruling in One Wisconsin v. Thomsen, which struck down part of Wisconsin’s voter ID law. “For the second time in three days, a court has granted our motion for stay in a case challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID laws and we are very pleased with this Court’s decision to allow this law to be in effect for the November 2016 election,” said Attorney General Brad Schimel. “I will continue to fight for the State of Wisconsin and to defend its laws before the courts.”

ABC NETWORK REPORTS THE MISLEADING RELEASE

The local ABC affiliate dutifully reported, “Attorney General Brad Schimel says the decision regarding One Wisconsin v. Thomsen will allow the voter ID law to be in effect for the November 2016 election.”

The hold placed against new early voting restrictions, a shorter residency requirement, stricter student ID requirements are all still in effect.

UNCERTAINTY FOR THE 2016 ELECTION

With the national election less than three months away, legal actions will now continue in the federal appeals court.

(Featured picture is from an August 8, 2016, interview of the Elections Commission chairman.)