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2012 column image: 
2012 column title: 

Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Must Be Reinstated Before the November Elections

2012 column date: 
Thursday, August 23, 2012
2012 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Since I first became Attorney General, I have spoken to and heard from tens of thousands of people on a variety of subjects. If these contacts are any indication of what matters to the people of Wisconsin, election integrity is at the top of the list. At the Department of Justice, we've accomplished a great deal with respect to election integrity, including the creation of a statewide elections fraud task force and the investigation and prosecution of multiple election law violations.

 

Throughout the past year, the battle for election integrity has focused on Wisconsin's new Voter ID law. The law, which took effect on June 9, 2011, is simple: qualified voters who appear at the polls must present proper photo identification to prove that they are who they say they are. Before Voter ID, a person could merely state a name and then vote without verifying his or her identity.

 

To me, and to the large majority of people who come into contact with me, the need to present photo identification in order to vote is a common sense way to deter illegal votes and create confidence in the outcomes of our elections. The United States Supreme Court agrees. Just four years ago, it upheld the constitutionality of an Indiana voter ID law, which provided the model for Wisconsin's law.

 

Earlier this year, on February 21st, the non-partisan statewide spring elections were conducted, without any major incidents, under Wisconsin's new Voter ID. Since then, the law has been enjoined by the Dane County Circuit Court in two separate lawsuits. Two federal cases also are pending.

 

The legislature has the prerogative (and obligation) to regulate the conduct of elections, so long as it does so consistently with the federal and state constitutions. My first duty as Attorney General is to uphold and defend the laws of this state, including election laws. I firmly believe Wisconsin's Voter ID law is constitutional, that it protects, rather than impedes, the right to vote, and that it must be defended aggressively. Our democracy suffers an irreparable harm every time an election occurs under processes that differ from what the legislature has constitutionally prescribed. That is why earlier this year my office asked the state's appellate courts for extraordinary relief to stay the lower courts' rulings, one of which was only a temporary injunction at that time.

 

While the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to accept the Voter ID cases before the state's presidential primary and general recall elections, it can still act before the general election in November. Therefore, we continue to pursue every legal avenue to have the cases heard in an expeditious manner.

 

The lower court actions are now completed, the full trial records have been prepared for appellate court review, and appellate proceedings have now reached a stage where I am able to ask the Supreme Court to hear these cases directly. So, on August 21, 2012, the first day on which I was permitted to move to bypass the Court of Appeals, I asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to assert jurisdiction over the state Voter ID cases and to restore the law before this fall's election.

 

Many people are tremendously frustrated that a circuit court judge can countermand the will of the people by enjoining a law. Others support the lower court decisions to enjoin the law. I believe that many on both sides agree that this is a tremendously significant issue that should be decided by the state's highest court before we elect our next president. Circuit court orders have prevented the Voter ID law from being applied in the past four statewide elections, including a historical recall election. I have respectfully asked the Supreme Court to expedite its review of these cases so that it may consider the merits before a fifth election occurs by means other than those prescribed by law.