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View from around the state: Voter ID requirement not needed for Nov. 6

From The Sheboygan Press. Sept. 5, 2012.

Election Day is nine weeks away and campaigns for president, U.S. Senate and House, and the state Legislature are in the home stretch.

Meanwhile, the status of the state’s voter ID law is still held up in courts.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is asking the state Supreme Court to rule on two cases so that the voter ID law can be in place by the Nov. 6 general election.

Given that two injunctions issued in Dane County Circuit Court put a halt to further implementation of the law back in March, and no evidence of widespread voter fraud has ever been documented, we believe there no is need to rush to judgment in this case.

The law, which went into effect June 9, 2011, requires qualified voters to present a photo identification at the polls before voting. Legal IDs include a state driver’s license, a state ID issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a military ID, a U.S. passport, a student ID that expires within two years.

In March, two Dane County judges in separate cases issued injunctions against the voter ID law. The state Department of Justice, acting on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker, appealed those rulings. (Meanwhile, two federal cases on the issue are also pending.)

On Aug. 21, Van Hollen asked the state Supreme Court to take over the cases and stay the injunctions “to ensure the law will be in place for the Nov. 6, 2012, general election.”

While we have viewed the debate as philosophical, we believe a voter ID requirement is needed. Proponents of the law say it’s necessary to stop voter fraud; opponents say it places an undue hardship on those without an approved ID.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study released in January 2011 found that voter ID requirements “disproportionately affect several subpopulations: ethnic and racial minorities, high school and college students, senior citizens and disabled, women, and those with low incomes.”

However, the overall impact is tiny, maybe 3 percentage points, according to the study.

At the same time, the study showed that “by most accounts voter fraud is uncommon” and the law “targets voter impersonation at the polls, one of the rarest of all voter crimes. It does not address fraud by ineligible voters or abuse of the voter registration process.”

So if the risk of disenfranchisement is small and the risk of voter fraud is small, why rush the process? Lifting the injunctions now could cause undue hardship for those who need to secure voter IDs as well as for the municipal officials in charge of running the elections.

While the Nov. 6 general election is an important one, it’s not so important that we should take shortcuts and bypass the judicial process.

We believe a voter ID requirement makes sense, but given all the court challenges and confusion about the status of the law, it isn’t worth hurrying a decision so it can be in place by Nov. 6.

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