Voting rights are under attack in a way not seen in decades. Right now, 44 states have current or pending voter ID laws that will make it difficult — or even impossible — for many eligible voters to cast their ballots in 2012. As many as 5 million voters could be disenfranchised. Worse, the laws will have a disproportionate impact on specific communities: homeless, poor, elderly, and disabled persons; minorities; and students.
The new laws require voters to produce specific types of government-issued photo ID that many eligible citizens do not possess. Proponents of the laws claim these measures crack down on widespread voter fraud, but there is no credible evidence that such fraud even exists. In fact, one study found that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than cheat the system.
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are among the states to already enact voter ID laws. A new study on the potential impact of Wisconsin’s law on Milwaukee citizens shows that:
- Eligible Latino voters are 206 percent more likely to lack accepted photo ID than eligible non-Hispanic white voters;
- Eligible African-American voters are 182 percent more likely to lack accepted photo ID than eligible non-Hispanic white voters; and
- Only 6 percent of registered white voters in Milwaukee County lack an accepted photo ID, compared to 15.3 percent of registered black voters and 11.3 percent of registered Hispanic voters.
The suit is brought on behalf of eligible Wisconsin voters who the law may disenfranchise, including:
- A 52 year-old homeless veteran whose only photo ID, a veteran ID issued by the VA, will not be accepted at the polls;
- An 84 year-old woman who has voted in every election since 1948 and is a long-time member of her village board, but who lacks a valid birth certificate to obtain a state-issued ID; and
- A 19 year-old African American man who cannot afford the fee to obtain a copy of his birth certificate, which he must produce to get a state-issued ID.
The Law Center’s suit alleges that allowing only certain types of photo ID imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It also alleges that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax.
“Protecting homeless persons’ right to vote is crucial since voting is one of the few ways that homeless individuals can impact the political process and make their voices heard,” Law Center Civil Rights Attorney Heather Johnson remarked in a press statement when the suit was filed. “By limiting participation to Wisconsin residents with photo identification, this law effectively silences homeless persons’ voices. With homelessness rising by 12 percent in Wisconsin since the recession began, we cannot allow the state to set this dangerous and unconscionable precedent.”
Carl Ellis, a homeless veteran, added: “If I can serve my country, I should be able to vote for who runs it. These laws are undemocratic and un-American.”
In April, the Law Center amended the suit to include charges that Wisconsin’s law illegally blocks minorities and veterans from the polls under the federal Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. The Voting Rights Act bans the use of voting practices that have a disparate negative impact on racial and language minorities.
The Law Center is also working to ensure homeless and poor people know their rights, and training lawyers, advocates, and poll watchers to protect them on election day. Knowledge is power, and a vote is a voice.
This isn’t about who people vote for — only our right to vote. Help us preserve over 200 years of progress. Because when liberty’s taken from anyone, it’s taken from us all.