Wisconsin's new voter ID requirements won't affect April 7 election

By Adam Fox, WJFW-TV (Newswatch 12)


WASHINGTON D.C. - The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it refused to hear a case challenging Wisconsin's new voter ID law. The decision disappointed opponents of the proposal, who see it as a unconstitutional restriction on voting rights.

The law requires voters to provide proof of their identity when they show up to the polls on election day. However, the new law will not take effect until after the upcoming April 7 election.

Election officials, such as Lincoln County Clerk Christopher Marlowe, have already sent out many absentee ballots for that election, ballots that don't require the voter to provide any proof of identity.

"So that creates a problem," Marlowe said. "How are you going to require an ID from someone for this election [when] you have already let out ballots without [the ID requirement]?"

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel indicated that the absentee ballot problem was the main reason that the new ID law wouldn't affect the spring election.

"Absentee ballots are already in the hands of voters," Schimel said in a prepared statement Monday. "Therefore, the law cannot be implemented for the April 7 election. The voter ID law will be in place for future elections--this decision is final."

The Republican-led Legislature passed the bill in 2011 to help combat in-person voter fraud. Many legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, applauded the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to refuse the case, thus upholding the lower court's ruling that the law is constitutional. 

"I am thrilled that today's ruling from the Supreme Court has finally put an end to the protracted legal battle which has stalled this legislation in Wisconsin for far too long," Fitzgerald said. "Today's decision is a great victory for proponents of Voter ID and for the State of Wisconsin."

In a release, Gov. Walker said, "This is great news for Wisconsin voters. As we've said, this is a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our voting process, making it easy to vote and hard to cheat."

However, Democrats argue in-person voting fraud isn't as rampant as Republicans claim. Furthermore, they say the law serves as a barrier for people who don't have an ID, especially the poor and the elderly. 

"While I'm pleased that the law will not go into effect until after the spring election," said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, "I'm deeply concerned that it will put up more hurdles for thousands of voters, particularly senior citizens, people of color, people with disabilities, and students."

Marlowe, the Lincoln County clerk, recommends voters without an appropriate ID get one as soon as possible.

"Because it is coming," Marlowe said. "You've got a whole year to prepare, and I am sure people like the media are going to get the word out, so everybody has a lot of time to prepare, so this shouldn't be a very big issue."

You can get a free ID by visiting the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles. According to a Government Accountability Board statement Monday, the DMV allows a person to obtain a free State ID card for voting purposes, even if the person does not have a birth certificate. 

Kevin Kennedy, Director of the Government Accountability Board, says the state will not oppose a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to block implementation of the law through the April election.

Kennedy says trying to put the law in place before then "wouldn't work and would add a lot of chaos and confusion."

Kennedy says the law will be in place for local special elections as soon as next month.

Follow the links below for information about how to vote in the upcoming election and how to get a valid ID card.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.