A federal judge found parts of Wisconsin’s elections laws to be unconstitutional, ruling they unfairly benefited the Republicans that had enacted them by making it more difficult for Democrats to vote. The state’s voter ID law was not thrown out, however.
“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,” US District Judge James Peterson wrote in his 112-page ruling on Friday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”
Judge Peterson’s ruling keeps the state’s voter identification law in place, but orders the state to issue voting credentials to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID to vote, even if they lack the required documents, such as a birth certificate.
He said the state’s current system had proved to be “a wretched failure,” because an overwhelming number of black and Hispanic citizens were unable to obtain IDs.
Judge Peterson also struck down a law limiting absentee voting to one location in a municipality and early in-person voting to weekdays.
The law limiting early voting “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race,” Peterson wrote, reported the Journal. “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,” the ruling continued.
The judge also struck down new residency requirements, which had increased from 10 to 28 days.
“Wisconsin has the authority to regulate its elections to preserve their integrity, and a voter ID requirement can be part of a well-conceived election system,” Peterson wrote, according to the Associated Press. “But… part of Wisconsin’s election regime fail to comply with the constitutional requirement that its elections remain fair and equally open to all qualified electors.”
Despite the presidential election being less than four months away, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel told the AP that he would appeal the court’s decision.
The lawsuit was filed by two liberal groups, One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, Inc., which argued that the state’s election laws were unconstitutional and discriminated against the poor, racial minorities, and young voters, who are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate.
“It is a great day for Wisconsin voters and those who care about protecting the right to vote,” Marc Elias, an attorney representing both groups told the AP, while claiming that Republicans have been working nationwide to repeal voting rights and laws that have been place since 1965.
Defense attorneys argued that the laws did not suppress voter turnout, while maintaining the state had worked hard to make sure anyone needing a free ID to vote received one.