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US Supreme Court blocks Wis. voter ID law (UPDATE)

Associated Press

A look at voter ID developments

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law from going into effect before the Nov. 4 election. Here’s a rundown on the law and the three-year fight over it:

THE LATEST: Voters won’t have to show a photo ID at polls on Nov. 4 after the Supreme Court on Thursday night blocked a lower appeals court order that let the state implement the law.

The groups that asked the Supreme Court to take emergency action now have 90 days to file a formal request for the court to take up their case, which means the law won’t be reinstated before the election.

The court didn’t say why it was blocking the law, but three dissenting justices said it was “troubling” that absentee ballots may have been distributed without any notification that proof of photo identification must be returned with them.

About 11,800 absentee ballots were requested before the appeals court put the voter ID law into effect on Sept. 15, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections. About 4,500 of those ballots had not yet been mailed. But the board has not been able to determine whether the other 7,300 were mailed or whether they were sent to people exempt from the photo ID law, such as military and permanent overseas voters, he said Friday.

THE LAW: Republicans who control the state Legislature passed the law in 2011, requiring people to show certain government-issued photo IDs at the polls to vote.

Acceptable forms of identification include driver’s licenses, state ID cards and passports. Republicans say the law is a common-sense measure that will help reduce election fraud. Democrats say that no evidence of widespread voter impersonation exists in Wisconsin and that the law is a way to keep Democratic constituencies that lack IDs such as the poor, minorities and the elderly, from voting.

The law was used only once, in a low-turnout primary in February 2012, before it was put on hold amid litigation.

THE PEOPLE AFFECTED: Civil rights groups say thousands of minority voters lack the type of photo ID required by the law. They say older voters are particularly affected because many were born at home and lack the birth certificates needed to get a Wisconsin driver’s license or photo ID.

Former Wisconsin Secretary of State Vel Phillips, 90, said she had difficulty getting state ID on Friday because she didn’t have an original birth certificate or her Social Security card. She eventually received an ID after state workers found a record of her old driver’s license in their computer system.

Phillips, who no longer drives, didn’t have to show her birth certificate when she first got her license.

“I just didn’t know I would have to go through all of that,” Phillips said. “It didn’t even matter that I was the first woman on the city council, and I was on the city council for 16 years, and I was a judge.”

THE COST: The elections board has been taking steps since Sept. 15 to implement the voter ID law. It updated radio and TV ads used in 2012 and then aired them for two weeks, spending less than $20,000, Magney said.

A bigger, more expensive campaign scheduled to start this weekend is now on hold, and it’s too soon to say whether the board will need a different education effort to let voters know they don’t need a photo ID on Nov. 4, he said. Meanwhile, counties have incurred their own costs.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said Friday that his office spent $5,000 so far to let people know they needed IDs, and now it will have to spend more to tell them they don’t.

— M.L. JOHNSON and TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Wisconsin from implementing a law requiring voters to present photo IDs, overturning a lower court decision that would have put the law in place for the November election.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law constitutional on Monday. The following day, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project filed an emergency request asking the Supreme Court to block the ruling.

On Thursday night the U.S. Supreme Court issued a one-page order that vacated the appeals court ruling pending further proceedings. Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying the application should have been denied because there was no indication that the 7th Circuit had demonstrably erred.

“Obviously we’re thrilled that people are going to be able to vote in this election,” said Molly Collins, associate director for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

The ACLU, the Advancement Project and their allies now have 90 days to file a formal petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, Collins said, noting that the deadline lies well beyond Election Day so the law can’t be reinstated by Nov. 4.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen defended the law.

“I believe the voter ID law is constitutional, and nothing in the Court’s order suggests otherwise,” he said in an emailed statement.

The dissenting justices raised concerns that absentee ballots had been sent with no notification of the need to present photo IDs — and that there was not enough time to address this issue before the November polls.

“We will be exploring alternatives to address the Court’s concern and have voter ID on election day,” Van Hollen said.

But opponents of the law were adamant that the decision removed the photo ID requirement.

All registered Wisconsin voters can cast ballots “regardless of whether or not they have a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID,” Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair said in a statement.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the order “puts the brakes on the last-minute disruption and voter chaos created by this law,” that he said imperiled the vote for thousands of registered voters in Wisconsin.

The decision came on the same day that a federal court in Texas ruled in favor of the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit against Texas’s voter ID law. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder welcomed both decisions.

“This Department will never yield in its commitment to protecting that most sacred of Americans’ rights — the right to vote,” Holder said in a statement.

Wisconsin’s photo ID law has been a political flashpoint since Republican legislators passed it in 2011. The GOP argues the mandate is a common sense step toward reducing election fraud. Democrats maintain no widespread fraud exists and that the law is really an attempt to keep Democratic constituents who may lack ID, such as the poor, minorities and the elderly, from voting.

The law was in effect for the February 2012 primary but subsequent legal challenges put it on hold and it hasn’t been in place for any election since.

The ACLU and allied groups persuaded a federal judge in Milwaukee to declare the law unconstitutional in April.

Van Hollen asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the decision. A three-judge panel ruled last month that the state could implement the law while it considered the merits of the case, sparking outrage from the ACLU, its allies and Democrats who contended that state election officials couldn’t re-implement the law in time for the Nov. 4 elections and that chaos would reign at the polls.

A flurry of legal jousting ensued. The ACLU asked the Supreme Court last week to take emergency action to block the appeals panel’s decision. On Monday the 7th Circuit issued a full ruling declaring the law constitutional, a decision that was all but certain given the initial order allowing the state to move ahead, promoting the ACLU to follow Tuesday with another emergency request to the Supreme Court.

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