In The News
Judge halts photo ID law for April 3 election
Correction: The original March 6 story below described former Vietnam veteran Judge David Flanagan as former Navy Seals, which was an error. During the Vietnam era he supervised a team of divers as a part of the Navy Seabees.
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted March 6, 2012
Calling it "the single most restrictive voter eligibility law" in the nation, Wisconsin Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan on March 6 issued a temporary injunction stopping the requirement to show a photo ID in the April 3 election.
US Rep. Gwen Moore, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and dozens of other public officials said they felt “vindicated” and “elated” while Gov. Walker and his supporters hinted darkly at an immediate appeal.
Election officials immediately started retraining poll workers on how to let those without a state photo identification card vote in the statewide nonpartisan elections April 3, which also includes a partisan component, a Republican preferential primary for president.
Agreeing with the plaintiffs – the Milwaukee NAACP and Voces de la Frontera – that they were likely to win the trial set for April 16 to issue a permanent injunction, the bearded veteran judge noted the complaint was based on the controlling Wisconsin Constitution. Unlike the US Constitution it spells out explicitly the requirements for a voter and had led the Wisconsin Supreme Court to step in frequently since the 1800s to protect that “sacred right” despite the normal deference due the legislature.
Flanagan cited his decision’s compatibility with the US Supreme Court upholding the more flexible Indiana voting law. Again and again he cited the thorough documented testimony by the plaintiffs’ key witness, respected University of Wisconsin-Madison Prof. Kenneth Mayer, who used census data to estimate that 220,000 constitutionally qualified voters don't have the type of ID required under the so-called Act 23.
While not required in his decision, Flanagan singled out Mayer’s evidence that the rule hit disproportionately hard on minorities, the elderly and indigent. He also quoted from the 40 affidavits of disenfranchised voters submitted by the plaintiffs. Unlike previous decisions, he noted, Mayer’s uncontested analysis was “competent, well-founded, entirely credible, and persuasive.”
The need for an immediate temporary injunction, the judge wrote, was a hard point but the “scope of the impairment has been shown to be serious, extremely broad and largely needless" – and the judge also pointed out the basic uselessness of the imposition, noting “no evidence of any voter fraud that would have been prevented by Act 23.”
The temporary injunction that stops photo ID is just one of several federal and state lawsuits moving forward. Another Dane County court just approved a full hearing for the League of Women Voters challenging Act 23’s constitutionality. The ACLU has amended with new cases of disenfranchised disabled a federal lawsuit saying the voter ID bill violates the US Voting Rights Act.
Conservative news media immediately highlighted that Flanagan last year had signed the Recall Walker petition (circulated by his wife) – which puts him in the company of one million other Wisconsin citizens. They did not mention he is a Vietnam veteran, former Navy Seal and prosecutor appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
The ruling did not change other aspects of the law – signing a poll book, 28 day residency, no witness allowed at the polls to vouch for your vote – but unless the state can grease through an appeal, it means as of now that voters lacking a photo ID cannot be blocked from the ballot.
Gov. Walker and his supporters coordinated ”disappointed” references to a “common sense” solution, without discussing the impediments the judge had found. Walker tweeted a comparison to showing a photo ID to get cold medicine, which produced merriment on the Internet.
But even if the state greases an appeal through a state high court that has previously been friendly to Walker’s legislation, there is a cleverness in Flanagan’s decision, since it cites how frequently the Wisconsin Supreme Court has acted to correct the legislature when it attempts to limit the “inherent, fundamental and sacred” right to vote outlined in the Wisconsin Constitution.