People without photo identification will be able to vote in November’s general election by signing an affidavit stating they could not obtain identification, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman issued a preliminary injunction order Tuesday in a case challenging the state’s law requiring voters to have photo identification, granting a request from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU’s request called for an affidavit option for voters who face a “reasonable impediment” to obtain a valid photo ID.
Adelman’s order will allow the affidavit option for voters in the general election on Nov. 8. The ACLU’s original request was to have the option in place for people seeking to vote in the Aug. 9 primary election.
While most voters either have an ID or can get one easily, “a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort,” Adelman wrote in the order. “The plaintiffs’ proposed affidavit option is a sensible approach that will both prevent the disenfranchisement of some voters during the pendency of this litigation and preserve Wisconsin’s interests in protecting the integrity of its elections.”
Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is defending the law, said he was disappointed with the court’s decision.
“We will decide the next course of action after (the Department of Justice) attorneys have had time to fully review and analyze the court’s decision,” Schimel said in a statement.
Sean Young, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the ruling was a “strong rebuke of the state’s efforts to limit access to the ballot box.”
“Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been a mistake from day one,” Young said in a statement. “It means that a fail safe will be in place in November for voters who have had difficulty obtaining ID.”
Voters must show a Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID card, a U.S. passport, military ID card, a college ID meeting certain requirements, a naturalization certificate or ID issued by a state-based American Indian tribe in order to vote.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Elections Commission, said the board will talk to DOJ attorneys about the decision to prepare for the November election.
“It is too early to discuss the details of how the affidavit procedure will be implemented, however, it will affect a relatively small number of voters,” he said.
The ACLU filed the motion in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee after a federal appeals court in April ruled that the ACLU and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty could seek such an order as they challenge the state’s law.
Voter ID was made law in Wisconsin in 2011 but, due to a string of legal challenges, didn’t take effect in a statewide election until this year.
In Wisconsin and other states that have implemented voter ID, it has been politically explosive. The law’s supporters argue it’s a reasonable step to prevent voter impersonation, though such cases are rare. Critics decry it as an attempt to suppress voting by groups that tend to vote for Democrats, such as the very poor, college students and minorities.
The ACLU and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed the federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law in 2011. The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2014.
But the groups pressed the suit, saying that some people face special obstacles to obtain the ID needed to vote under the law.
The state DOJ previously asked Adelman to put the lawsuit on hold because a similar lawsuit brought by the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Institute made its way through the courts, challenging elements of the Voter ID law and other election-related measures implemented since 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker took office and Republicans gained control of the Legislature.