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Judge right to overturn Wisconsin voter ID laws

By Kayvon Ghoreshi
On May 1, 2014

On Tuesday, District Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin's voter ID laws, which required that individuals present a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, in order to cast a ballot. This comes a little over a week after a judge in Arkansas struck down the state's similar voter ID laws. The concept of voter ID laws has been a very hot topic as of late with many states implementing them in order to combat voter fraud. However, as Adelman wrote in his decision, voter ID laws heavily infringe on the voting capability of the poor and minorities and also act as a solution to what is effectively a nonexistent problem.
In his ruling, Adelman found the law to be unconstitutional under the equal protections clause. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has already reasserted that the law is constitutional and plans to appeal. It is possible that this ruling could get overturned, depending on how a court interprets the Fourteenth Amendment. However, Walker's concern should not be so much with the Constitution as it should be with the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court knocked down section 4 of the law, which required states with a previous history of discrimination to undergo additional scrutiny prior to changing their voting laws. However, section 2 remains intact and it serves as a much stronger ground for why Wisconsin's voter ID laws should be struck down.
Section 2 prohibits "any voting standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group." In short, voting laws cannot have a disproportionate impact on minority voters. Wisconsin's laws happen to do just that. The judge found that 9 percent of all registered voters in Wisconsin, or roughly 300,000 individuals, lack the required ID and the majority of them are from the low income minority demographic, which could pose a problem in acquiring a photo ID and thus render them unable to vote.
Legal issues aside, there are some practical issues with how voter ID laws generally work. I agree with the basic sentiment of proponents of the law. Voter fraud is a deplorable act. It undermines the democratic process and should be prevented and should be punished when it occurs. I also don't deny that voter fraud exists, albeit infrequently. However, the solution being suggested seems to do more harm than good. While seemingly eliminating voter fraud, it simultaneously hurts other individuals' ability to vote.
This unbalanced tradeoff is glaring in Wisconsin. During the case, defendants of the law were asked to identify a single time in Wisconsin where voting fraud had occurred. They were unable to do so. This really begs the question as to why these reforms were implemented in the first place. Why create a solution to a virtually nonexistent problem? It may just be a matter of principle, but it's hard to argue that you're defending the integrity of voting system when so many people are being disenfranchised as a result.
The more underlying reason has to do with politics. The voters likely being prohibited are from demographics that generally vote Democrat. The voting ID laws in Wisconsin and in various other states were proposed, written and signed into law by Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislators. If votes for Democrats were suppressed, it would help Republicans in elections. While it is impossible to prove that this was the true motive behind the law, the blatant lack of voter fraud issues points to politicians having a greater interest in protecting their power, rather than protecting the integrity of the voting system.
The compromise would be to provide free photo IDs specifically for voting. In this way, voter fraud can be prevented, while ensuring that minority groups are not being disenfranchised. This method would undoubtedly have more financial burdens on part of the state, but if absolute voting integrity is desired, I'd rather have it be at the expense of the state's tax dollars rather than at the expense of other people's ability to vote.  


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