Supreme Court Won't Overturn Wisconsin's Voter ID Law

March 25th 2015

Sarah Gray

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States announced it would not hear a challenge to Wisconsin's voter identification act. This move impacts hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters, and the effects of this decision could reverberate nationally -- especially affecting Millennials.

Wisconsin's voter identification law, passed in 2011, is one of the most stringent voter ID laws and requires specific forms of identification. (Accepted forms do not include Veterans Administration IDs or college identification, if the university ID lacks a signature, expiration date, and address.) The law leaves nearly 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters unable to vote due to a lack of specific identification. The law was struck down by a federal district judge in April of 2014, but that ruling was overturned by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September of the same year. Challengers of the law then brought the case to the Supreme Court, which on Monday opted not to hear arguments, meaning the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands.

Proponents of the law say it was enacted to stop voter fraud. The April 2014 ruling, however, concluded, in the words of Judge Lynn Adleman, "virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin."

"It's very disappointing," Katherine Culliton-González said to ATTN: about the Supreme Court's decision. Culliton-González is a senior attorney with the Advancement Project, which partnered with the ACLU to litigate this case.

"It's a huge blow to democracy and voting rights," she continued. "Our case proved through a very, very thorough record that this strict photo ID law is discriminatory, and of the 300,000 registered voters, who don't have this strict voter ID, which is nearly one-tenth of the electorate, there is disparate impact on African Americans and Latinos." 

The Supreme Court's decision is disconcerting on a variety of levels. Voter identification laws, such as Wisconsin's, limit the number of people who can vote -- and disproportionately affect minority populations, women, the elderly, and students. And obtaining identification can often put undue burden on the voter -- burdens that might include time, work, lack of transportation, and the fact that, in Wisconsin specifically, the DMV is not open on weekends.

This hurts young people.

Those in the millennial generation are affected in several ways, according to Culliton-González, who walked me through the process of getting an ID as if I were a student at a Wisconsin university that did not issue school identification with the proper requirements. I'd need to go to a DMV -- most likely multiple times -- which is difficult if you don't have a car or proper public transportation, have access to my birth certificate, or pay for a new one. It's a cost of both time and money -- one that can be quantified. 

The average cost of a voter ID is $75 to $175, according to a study done by Professor Richard Sobel from Harvard Law School.

"So it's basically a modern day poll tax," Culliton-González stated. Not everybody has the luxury to casually stop by the DMV. Regardless of income, transpiration, work, or other access barriers like language, Americans should be able to vote, she explained.

Disproportionately, minority populations of Millennials are most at risk of being disenfranchised. "We also found that there's a strong disparate impact on youth of color," explained Culliton-González. "There's less access to IDs for young Black men and young Latino men and also to nearly the same extent for young Latinas and young African American women."

In a wider scope, there are two other voter identifications laws from Texas and North Carolina that are also pending legal action. Following the Supreme Court's 2013 decision to strike out Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required that changes to voting laws in states with a history of voter suppression be cleared by the Department of Justice to make sure that they were not discriminatory, North Carolina passed a voter ID act and Texas reinstated its voter ID law. It is still unknown whether these cases will make it before the Supreme Court prior to the 2016 presidential election.

"The kicker is that these cases also involve intentional discrimination, and that's not the only type of discrimination that should be illegal in this country," Culliton-González explained. "That's not the only kind of discrimination that the Voting Rights Act prohibits. And we really disagree with the Supreme Court's decision, because in these other cases they also have claims of sort of the non-intentional discrimination."

The law will be on hold for Wisconsin's upcoming April 7 election, because absentee ballots have already been sent out, and the change would disrupt the voting process. However, if Wisconsin does not change the law, or if the state does not spend millions of dollars helping the 300,000 disenfranchised voters obtain identification, the law could have an effect on the 2016 election.

"We argued that voter ID [laws] are an issue of national importance that impacts millions of voters that must be resolved by the court before the 2016 election," Culliton-González explained. "And we got a record number of amicus briefs. One of them was from Millennials, from young voters, from Our Time and Rock the Vote."

"I know that it seems harder and harder, " Culliton-González said of registering to vote. "And it literally is harder and harder, but I hope that people are not deterred and that they register to vote!"

You can register to vote at OurTime.org. For an example of states trying to increase their voting population, check out this video: