By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — U.S. District Judge James Peterson issued a ruling last week loosening Wisconsin’s voter ID law and striking down a host of other state election laws that Republicans have passed over the last five years. Here are the key things to know about the ruling:
DID PETERSON STRIKE DOWN WISCONSIN’S PHOTO IDENTIFICATION REQUIREMENT FOR VOTERS?
No. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already upheld the law and Peterson wrote that he was bound by that decision. Republicans justified the requirement by saying it would help combat election fraud, even though no evidence shows any widespread fraud in Wisconsin. Even though he couldn’t overturn the mandate, Peterson still railed against it, writing that it illustrates a “preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud” and leads to real cases of disenfranchisement. The bottom line is voters will still need to show photo ID at the polls at next Tuesday’s primary and in the Nov. 8 general election.
SO WHAT CHANGES DID HE MAKE TO VOTER ID?
Under the voter ID law, people who lack photo ID can apply to the state Division of Motor Vehicles to obtain a free state ID. People who lack the proper underlying documents to obtain a state ID, such as a birth certificate, can petition the agency to obtain one.
Peterson ruled that process has been “pretty much a disaster” because it places severe burdens on petitioners, noting petitioners need five contacts with the DMV after the initial application to obtain an ID. He ordered the state to issue voting credentials to anyone currently in the petition process that will be valid for years. Another federal judge, Lynn Adelman, has already ruled in a separate case that people who lack photo ID can vote by affidavit.
Peterson also struck down the prohibition on using expired student IDs as valid photo identification at the polls.
WHAT OTHER LAWS DID HE STRIKE DOWN?
Gone are prohibitions on in-person early voting on weekends and distributing absentee ballots by fax or email. He also tossed a requirement restricting municipalities from offering more than one location for in-person early voting and he shortened the residency requirement for voting from 28 days to 10 days.
WHAT DOES GOV. SCOTT WALKER THINK?
The Republican governor has signed all of these provisions into law since he began his first term in 2011. His office issued a statement after the ruling Friday saying he was disappointed with the ruling and branding Peterson an activist judge. The statement said the laws are common-sense measures that protect the integrity of elections.
A STATEWIDE PRIMARY FOR CONGRESS AND THE LEGISLATURE IS SET FOR AUG. 9. WILL ANY OF THESE CHANGES BE IN EFFECT THEN?
No. Peterson wrote that he doesn’t want to disrupt that election. The ruling will be in effect for the Nov. 8 general election.
The state Department of Justice, run by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, has said it will appeal the ruling to the 7th Circuit. The agency almost certainly will ask either Peterson or the 7th Circuit to stay the ruling pending the outcome of the appeal.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE STATE HEADING INTO NOVEMBER?
In a holding pattern. If a court stays the ruling or overturns it before the Nov. 8 election, it’s back to the status quo. If the ruling remains in effect for the election, the DMV will have to come up with a process to issue voting credentials to people who can’t obtain photo ID. The state Elections Commission will have to update election workers’ training and voter registration forms to reflect the new 10-day residency requirement. Municipalities also will have to decide whether to implement in-person early voting on weekends. So far, the Elections Commission has told municipal clerks that the ruling won’t be in effect for the primary. The panel expects to issue more guidance later this week, although a commission spokesman, Reid Magney, cautioned the advice may not be very detailed at this point.