One of the state’s top Republican leaders signaled he's ready for Round 2 in the fight to impose a voter ID law in Wisconsin, saying it will be a priority when lawmakers get back to work in January.
“Having photo ID is something that is broadly supported by the public,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said Sunday on the Milwaukee TV talk show “UpFront with Mike Gousha.” “It is something that I really hope we will have in place by the next general election.”
So far, Round 1 of the fight is a draw: Republicans' first voter ID effort, which became law in May 2011, is currently tied up in four separate court cases.
That law, requiring citizens to present photo identification in order to vote, is widely viewed as the most restrictive of its kind in the country because of the limited number of IDs deemed acceptable.
Some portions of the law have gone into effect, but not the photo ID requirement, which is the target of the litigation.
Thus, it's unclear what a new Republican voter ID bill would look like and if it would stand up to what will be tough scrutiny from the minority party and the groups that have legally challenged the first one.
“I thought he (Vos) was misquoted,” says Stacy Harbaugh, a spokeswoman with the America Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “I had to double-check the date (on the online post) to make sure he was talking about current issues for the upcoming Legislature.”
The ACLU is one of the groups that have challenged the state law in court. So is the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
Andrea Kaminski, the league’s executive director, speculated Monday that a new voter ID law could expand the list of acceptable IDs. She said Alabama, for example, allows its residents to vote if they show a fishing license. That would not be an acceptable form of ID under Wisconsin’s current law.
Wisconsin’s law also does not allow a voter to sign an affidavit to verify his identity, under risk of a criminal penalty for lying. Such a provision in Indiana’s voter ID law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kaminski speculated this provision could be among potential changes Republicans could make to a new bill.
Speaker Vos’ office did not respond to numerous attempts to obtain a comment Monday.
Harbaugh says even expanding the allowable forms of identification would be scrutinized by the ACLU.
“We still say that asking for a photo ID is discriminatory. There is no real way for the Republican leadership to attempt to improve on the voter ID law,” she says. “The law has already been proven in court to have a discriminatory impact on people of color, the elderly, veterans, low-income people and students.”
The resurgence of the issue is “especially surprising,” given the number of court cases pending against the Republicans' first attempt at a voter ID law, says Assembly minority leader Peter Barca of Kenosha.
“The focus of the Legislature should be on creating jobs, not on anti-democracy measures that make it harder for people to vote,” he says.
But, as Vos noted to Gousha in the Sunday interview, the public backs the Republicans on a voter ID law.
The Marquette Law School Poll surveyed 2,126 registered voters in January, April and May on the topic, asking “Do you favor or oppose requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote?”
The average of the three polls was 63 percent in favor, 39 percent opposed and 2 percent undecided, says pollster Charles Franklin.
A national poll conducted by The New York Times of 1,170 registered voters between Sept. 8 and 12 found similar results, with 70 percent in support and 28 percent opposed to voter ID.
However, Franklin notes that Minnesota voters in November rejected a constitutional amendment imposing a voter ID requirement in that state.
“It’s interesting that the (Minnesota) public changed its mind when the campaigning began and issues were then raised against supporting voter ID,” Franklin says.