Federal judge strikes down several restrictive voting laws in the state
U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson ruled on Friday that the laws imposed on Wisconsin voters created an undue burden on citizens, specifically on minorities.
“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,” Peterson wrote in his decision. He ultimately found that “[t]he purported justifications for these laws do not justify the burdens they impose.”
His ruling essentially strikes down laws passed by Republican lawmakers since Gov. Scott Walker took office that:
- limited early voting to no earlier than the ten weekdays before an election, and restricted communities from allowing voters to cast ballots on weekends;
- limited the number of polling places that a community could have for early voting, restricting larger cities, for example, from allowing voters easier access to casting early ballots;
- prohibited access to absentee ballots through email or faxes sent directly to voters;
- disallowed students from using expired student ID cards to prove their identity;
- changed residency requirements for voting. Previously, residents who could demonstrate living in Wisconsin for ten days or longer were eligible voters, but Republicans changed that requirement to 28 days, essentially stripping new voters of their rights if they hadn’t lived in the state for more than a month (even in presidential elections).
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wrote:
This is a liberal judge’s attempt to undermine our elections less than four months out. ... The measures did not disenfranchise voters; they protected the integrity of our elections and people’s right to vote.And Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke wrote:
This is yet another attempt by an activist judge to usurp states’ rights. These laws uphold the integrity of our election process and our citizens’ right to vote.Common in those two statements (besides the “activist” judge trope) is the belief held by these two leaders in the Republican Party that the restrictions they passed somehow “protected the integrity of elections.”
But here’s the thing: remove those restrictions, and how exactly is the integrity of the elections compromised? The answer is, that it isn’t.
Allowing voters greater access to absentee ballots, allowing voters to vote earlier and on the weekends, allowing voters to use expired student IDs (expired driver’s licenses were already allowed), allowing communities to have multiple polling locations, and allowing newly established Wisconsin citizens to take part in the democratic process is hardly damaging to the elections that Republicans are trying to claim they’re trying to protect.
These restrictions, in fact, caused more harm to voters than anything else. They were rightly struck down as cumbersome and detrimental to the democratic process.
Wisconsin Republicans aren’t interested in protecting the integrity of anything, especially voting rights. They’re more interested in retaining and expanding their majorities in the legislature. That sort of behavior should concern every voter across the state. It isn’t democracy they’re worried about protecting; it’s their job security.