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Wisconsin Residents Can Vote Without ID

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 18, 2016 10:59 AM

Ever since Wisconsin passed a law requiring residents to present a valid photo ID at the polls in order to vote, the state has been a lightning rod in the debate about voter fraud laws. Preceding the 2014 elections, amidst a flurry of litigation, the Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that Wisconsin could not enforce its ID requirement.

Last week, with a presidential election looming in the fall, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals waded back into the voter ID law morass, ruling that Wisconsin residents who have difficulty getting photo IDs may be able to vote without them.

ID Mission Impossible

The unanimous decision didn't overturn Wisconsin's voter ID law. Instead, it gives those for whom obtaining a photo ID is extremely difficult a path to the polls. While that path has yet to be determined, the court did delineate the potential voters to whom the law applies:

(1) eligible voters unable to obtain acceptable photo ID with reason able expense and effort because of name mismatches or other errors in birth certificates or other necessary documents;

(2) eligible voters who need a credential from some other agency (such as the Social Security Administration) that will not issue the credential unless Wisconsin's Department of Motor Vehicles first issues a photo ID, which the DMV won't do until the other credential has been obtained;

(3) eligible voters who need a document that no longer exists (such as a birth certificate issued by an agency whose records have been lost in a fire).

The One Percent

It's unclear just how many potential voters could find relief under the ruling, but the court seems to think it's a small percentage of the population. Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote, "The right to vote is personal and is not defeated by the fact that 99 percent of other people can secure the necessary credentials easily." He added:

"Under Wisconsin's current law, people who do not have qualifying photo ID ... cannot vote, even if it is impossible for them to get such an ID. Plaintiffs want relief from that prohibition, not from the general application of (the voter ID law) to the millions of persons who have or readily can get qualifying photo ID."

The ruling, as the voter ID law itself, is bound to get more challenges, especially as we near the election. For now, though, Wisconsin residents who find it impossible to get an ID can at least find it possible to vote.

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