Voting

Voters won't need to present a photo ID in the Nov. 4 election after the U.S. Supreme Court stayed implementation of the law late Thursday.

JOHN HART | State Journal archives

Wisconsin voters won’t need a photo ID to cast a ballot on Nov. 4 after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split decision Thursday night halting the requirement.

The 6-3 decision came nearly a month after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the law, which had been on hold since a district judge ruled in April it was an unconstitutional barrier to voting.

“This is wonderful news and a victory for voters in Wisconsin,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, which filed a lawsuit challenging the voter ID requirement.

“Clearly there was not time for election officials to educate voters, prepare new materials and implement the law, especially when the election was already underway,” Kaminski said. “We should be seeking ways to get more citizens to vote in our elections, not to keep them away.”

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is defending the law in court, said in a statement that the law is constitutional “and nothing in the Court’s order suggests otherwise.”

“We will be exploring alternatives to address the court’s concern and have voter ID on election day,” Van Hollen said.

But that possibility appeared impossible given that the high court’s order puts the law on hold until either the Supreme Court makes a final decision on the merits of the case or turns down an appeal.

The appellate court decision had sent election officials scrambling to implement the law less than two months before a close-fought race between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement, “Voter ID is a common sense reform that makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat. While we understand the need for awareness about the law, we think it is important voter ID is implemented, so voters can have confidence in the electoral process, and we are confident the law will ultimately be upheld.”

Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said in a statement, “We look forward to ... ensuring that every eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot has the opportunity to do so. Regardless of your politics, we can all agree that the greater the level of participation in elections, the better it is for our state.”

The Government Accountability Board announced Thursday it would launch an informational radio and TV campaign costing more than $400,000 to educate voters about the requirement. GAB spokesman Reid Magney said the ad campaign could be canceled if the U.S. Supreme Court halted the law. He did not have any comment on the court’s order Thursday night.

Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, noted that in the most recent poll, about a quarter of likely voters were confused about the ID requirements.

Franklin added that “the yo-yo continues” for voter ID in Wisconsin, but agreed that the law appears to now be blocked at least until after the November elections.

Supporters of the law, including Walker, said it would protect the integrity of the election. But opponents said it could discourage seniors, students and low-income voters — typically Democratic voters — from going to the polls.

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas cast dissenting votes, but acknowledged “there is a colorable basis for the Court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election.”

“It is particularly troubling that absentee ballots have been sent out without any notation that proof of photo identification must be submitted,” the dissenting justices wrote. “But this Court ‘may not vacate a stay entered by a court of appeals unless that court clearly and ‘demonstrably’ erred in its application of ‘accepted standards.’’”

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said in a statement Thursday that implementing the law before the election “would have disenfranchised voters across the state and could have brought 2014 election results into question.”

The decision is not the court’s final word on the 2011 law. Thursday’s ruling was on the issue of whether to stay the appellate court’s decision before the Supreme Court makes a final decision, but it did not address the merits of the case, said Larry Dupuis, lawyer for the ACLU, which with the Advancement Project sought emergency blockage of the law.

The plaintiffs have 90 days to appeal the 7th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They could also request that all 10 members of the 7th Circuit hear the case. The full appellate panel split 5-5 on whether to stay the three-judge panel’s Sept. 12 decision.

Thursday’s ruling doesn’t guarantee the law will ultimately be struck down; in fact, it appears at least three justices believe it should be upheld, Dupuis said.

“The only thing you can absolutely infer from this is they recognized trying to implement this complicated law … (in the upcoming election) would be electoral disaster,” he said.

State Journal reporters Mary Spicuzza and Samara Kalk Derby contributed to this report.

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Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.