By CARRIE ANTLFINGER
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday, claiming Wisconsin’s new voter identification law imposes a severe burden on the right to vote — the second lawsuit filed in the last two months.
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Milwaukee, the ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional and award plaintiffs their attorneys’ fees.
“This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures,” said ACLU attorney Jon Sherman in a statement. “Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the United States Constitution.”
According to the lawsuit, requiring only certain types of government-issued photo ID imposes a severe burden on voting rights and effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax.
Among the defendants named are Gov. Scott Walker and members of the Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, and the Department of Transportation, which oversees the Division of Motor Vehicles that issues state IDs.
In an email statement, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the law is constitutional and other states laws with photo ID requirements have been upheld by federal courts.
“Requiring photo identification to vote helps ensure the integrity of our elections — we already require it to get a library card, cold medicine, and public assistance,” he said.
GAB general counsel and director Kevin Kennedy is also named in the suit. He said the GAB would contact the state Department of Justice, which is charged with defending the board, but the GAB’s goal was to implement the law as passed. A transportation department spokeswoman declined comment.
The groups filed the complaint on behalf of Wisconsin residents who may not be able to vote under the law, including 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank, of Brokaw, who does not have a birth certificate but has served on her village board since 1996.
In October, the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court to block the law, arguing that the state constitution clearly only bars children, felons and the mentally incompetent from voting, not people who lack photo IDs.
Republicans who control the state Legislature passed a law earlier this year that requires voters to produce photo identification at the polls beginning with this February’s election. A driver’s license, U.S. passport, a student ID that expires within two years, a state-issued ID card or a military ID will qualify.
In a news release, the ACLU noted that Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas also recently passed voter ID laws. The ACLU called them “voter suppression laws” and said they disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly, students, disabled people, and low-income and homeless voters.
An ad campaign to educate Wisconsin voters about the new photo identification requirement will hit the airwaves next month. The campaign, which includes both television and radio ads in addition to billboards, print ads and a toll-free hotline, is designed to inform people about the law. The theme is “Bring it to the ballot.”
The GAB reviewed snippets of the ads, and listened to three radio spots, at its Tuesday meeting. They did not discuss the lawsuits.
Associated Press Writer Scott Bauer also contributed to this report from Madison.