On April 12, 2016, a three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that district courts should consider suits being brought by those adversely affected by Wisconsin's photo ID law. The district court will now hear the case by voters who are holding that if for specified reasons they are unable to obtain voter ID, that they be permitted to vote given the provision of an affidavit. Such affidavits will be provided for voters who fall within one of three categories: 1) having a name that does not match that on their birth certificate, such as due to the changing of a last name with marriage (thus requiring more arduous processes associated with obtaining an ID); 2) a voter who is missing the underlying paperwork needed to obtain an ID (e.g., a Social Security card), and 3) a voter whose birth certificate has been lost. Thus, the circumstances to which this applies are highly specific and aimed at those cases that would require an inordinate amount of paperwork and appointments that are disproportionately burdensome for those who are lower-income.
Judge Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit authored the opinion, writing, "Instead of saying that inconvenience for some voters means that no one needs photo ID, plaintiffs contend that high hurdles for some persons eligible to vote entitle those particular persons to relief. Plaintiffs’ approach is potentially sound if even a single person eligible to vote is unable to get acceptable photo ID with reasonable effort. The right to vote is personal and is not defeated by the fact that 99% of other people can secure the necessary credentials easily. Plaintiffs now accept the propriety of requiring photo ID from persons who already have or can get it with reasonable effort, while endeavoring to protect the voting rights of those who encounter high hurdles."
The judge hearing the case will be Lynn Adelman, who in a 2014 case struck down the voter ID law on the grounds that it discriminated on the basis of race in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Wisconsin ACLU Senior Attorney Karyn Rotker said of the 7th Circuit's holding, "The Appeals Court determined that just because it may be easy for most people to get ID, the state can't take voting rights away from people who have real difficulties getting ID.”
While we rightly see much emphasis on the fact that November will be the first presidential election in the aftermath of Shelby County v. Holder, it is important to note that increasing restrictions on voting is a nationwide strategy being employed, whether in the form of photo ID requirements or the reduction or elimination of early or absentee voting. Such constraints disproportionately impact minorities, poor voters, and students, and in the recent Wisconsin primary resulted in long lines and voters being turned away.
The right to vote is sacred. Our nation has a long history of battles over obtaining the right to vote in the first place, and later obtaining the right to vote in practice and free of discrimination. While increases in voter turnout do not impact the parties equally, whether one is a Democrat or Republican (and it is worth noting that the 7th Circuit panel was comprised only of Republican appointees), the notion of registered voters (with voter registration alone requiring some evidence of citizenship and residence) being entitled to cast ballots should not be controversial. It is democracy in action.