September 18, 2014

Anything to put a barrier between the voters and the ballot box, right?

Madison — Most voters who have already returned absentee ballots will have to provide their local clerks with copies of photo identification — as will thousands of others who have received absentee ballots but not yet submitted them.

Kevin Kennedy, the head of the agency that runs state elections, said new steps are being put in place to contact such voters after a Friday ruling by an appeals court that reinstated Wisconsin's long-stalled voter ID law.

Clerks will contact each absentee voter in writing and follow up with them in other ways. No matter what, those voters will be required to produce a copy of their IDs, said Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board.

"If they don't, the ballot will be rejected and won't be counted," said Kennedy, who spoke at a news conference at his agency's headquarters.

Also Tuesday, the groups challenging the voter ID law said they would ask the full, 10-member U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Friday's decision. Friday's order came from a three-judge panel.

The developments came just seven weeks before the Nov. 4 election that pits Republican Gov. Scott Walker against Democrat and former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke.

The New York Times editorial board had this to say:

Rick Hasen, a professor of election law at the University of California, Irvine, called the panel’s decision “a big, big mistake” on his blog. He added: “It is hard enough to administer an election with set rules — much less to change the rules midstream.”

Voter ID laws seem like an easy rallying cry. Who doesn’t support “electoral integrity”? And how hard is it to get an ID anyway? But as judges across the country have increasingly come to understand, there is essentially zero in-person fraud, which is the only kind that voter ID laws would stop. “Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” Judge Adelmanfound in April.

On the other hand, tracking down the underlying documents to get an approved form of ID can be a forbidding process, particularly for those otherwise-eligible voters without a birth certificate, or without easy access to transportation. As Judge Adelman found, Wisconsin’s law “will deter or prevent a substantial number of the 300,000-plus voters who lack an ID from voting.”

In short, voter ID laws don’t stop fraud. They stop otherwise-eligible voters from coming to the polls. Richard Posner, a federal appellate judge who sits on the same court as the judges on the ruling panel, made just this point when he said last fall that he was mistaken to have approved a voter ID law in Indiana seven years ago.

That law was upheld by the Supreme Court, which said the challengers had not produced enough evidence of how many voters would be harmed by it, or precisely how the ID requirement would burden them. The opponents of the Wisconsin law have produced reams of evidence on both counts. If that isn’t enough for Judge Posner’s colleagues, it is hard to imagine what would be.

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