by Dmitriy Synkov
The U.S. Supreme court struck down a voter identification law in Wisconsin just 26 days before the November 4 election, citing the difficulty of implementing the law on such short notice. And the Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday unanimously struck down a state voter ID law.
While both rulings were welcomed by voting rights advocates, the one generating the most attention is Wisconsin’s, where Gov. Scott Walker, a voter ID champion, is locked in a too-close-to-call race with former Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce and Madison school board member Mary Burke.
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“It is simply impossible, as a matter of common sense and of logistics, that hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters will both learn about the need for photo identification and obtain the requisite identification in the next 36 days,” wrote the federal appeals court judges who invalidated the law.
The law would have required Wisconsin voters to present government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or state-issued identification card. The Supreme Court decision is seen as a blow to Walker’s re-election campaign.
On the same day the Wisconsin ruling was handed down, a federal court in Texas likewise struck down a voter ID law enacted in 2011. That ruling, however, was temporarily blocked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit just four days later, allowing Texas to enforce the strict voter ID requirement.
U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who had invalidated the Texas law, addressed the law’s bias directly:
The Court holds that [Texas’ voter ID law] creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional purpose.
Judge Ramos also called the law an “unconstitutional poll tax.”
Despite protests from Republican elected officials in Texas, Ramos’ opinion is consistent with recent national studies regarding the politically motivated intent of a spate of restrictive voter ID laws pushed by conservative governors and state lawmakers.
A May 2014 study by the University of Southern California found that legislators who favor voter ID laws are motivated by racial bias against Hispanics and African Americans. The study found that they are also less likely to respond to Hispanic constituents’ inquiries or requests.
Just a day after the Oct. 9 ruling, federal Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals released a blistering 43-page dissent condemning voter ID laws and dismissing Republican legislators’ concerns of electoral fraud as “downright goofy, if not paranoid.”
Voter ID laws are ostensibly meant to curb electoral fraud, a problem that independent study after study have repeatedly reminded is a rare occurrence with a negligible effect on election outcomes. The “electoral fraud” reasoning is regarded by election law experts as a scapegoat to restrict African Americans, Hispanics, students, the elderly, and the poor from voting – groups that may not have the financial or logistical means to obtain documentation and that historically do not vote for Republicans.
Voter ID laws are seen by many, including Judge Ramos, as a revival of the Jim Crow-era poll tax, declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966.