Federal judge rules Wisconsin election laws largely unconstitutional
Federal judge rules Wisconsin election laws largely unconstitutional

A judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] on Friday struck down [opinion, PDF] several Wisconsin election laws, passed in recent years, stating that “parts of Wisconsin’s election regime fail to comply with the constitutional requirement that its elections remain fair and equally open to all qualified electors.” In making that determination, Judge James Peterson stated:

The heart of the opinion considers whether each of the other challenged provisions unduly burdens the right to vote, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. This analysis proceeds under what is known as the Anderson-Burdick framework, which sets out a three-step analysis. First, I determine the extent of the burden imposed by the challenged provision. Second, I evaluate the interest that the state offers to justify that burden. Third, I judge whether the interest justifies the burden.

Performing the analysis above, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ facial challenge to the entire set of voter ID laws in order to comply with the US Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit precedents, but specifically struck down: 1) most of the state-imposed limitations on the time and location for in-person absentee voting (although the state may set a uniform rule disallowing in-person absentee voting on the Monday before elections); 2) the requirement that “dorm lists” to be used as proof of residence include citizenship information; 3) the 28-day durational residency requirement; 4) the prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email; and 5) the bar on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs. Granting the plaintiffs’ request for a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the stricken-down laws, the court ordered the state to “Promptly issue a credential valid as a voting ID to any person who enters the [ID Petition Process] or who has a petition pending.” The Wisconsin State Department of Justice [official website], which defended the laws, has expressed its intention to appeal [ABC News report] the ruling.

Voting rights have been the subject of numerous legal challenges across the US, particularly in a presidential election year. Also Friday a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] several provisions of North Carolina’s House Bill 589 (HB 589) [text, PDF], most notably its voter identification requirements. Last month a federal judge ruled that Ohio’s elimination of the state’s early in-person voting [JURIST report] was unconstitutional and in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier in May a federal judge ruled that Virginia’s voter identification law, which requires that voters have a valid form of ID either before voting or within three days after voting, is constitutional [JURIST report]. Also in May a federal judge ruled that Kansas cannot require voters to provide proof of citizenship [JURIST report] when registering to vote. In February the Maryland Senate overrode a veto by Governor Larry Hogan to pass a bill that will allow felons to vote [JURIST report] before they complete parole or probation.