MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge must consider whether Wisconsin's voter photo identification law applies to people who face daunting obstacles in obtaining identification, a three-judge federal appellate panel ruled Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 challenging the law. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman struck the law down in April 2014, saying it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters who may lack such identification.
But a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ultimately reversed him and upheld the law that October, ruling Wisconsin's law is substantially similar to one in Indiana that the U.S. Supreme Court declared constitutional. The law was in effect for last week's presidential primary.
The ACLU and the national homeless center have continued to argue, however, that voters who face stiff hurdles in getting a photo ID should be allowed to vote by affidavit. They say those voters include people who can't obtain IDs because of name mismatches or other errors in birth certificates or other necessary documents; those who need a credential from another agency such as the Social Security Administration that they can't get without a state photo ID; or those who need a document that no longer exists.
Judges Michael Kanne, Frank Easterbrook and Diane Sykes wrote Tuesday that Adelman must consider those arguments and sent the case back to him.
The panel noted that Indiana's law allows people who can't obtain a photo ID for financial or religious reasons to file an affidavit to that effect and have their vote provisionally counted.
Wisconsin's law allows voters who lack IDs to vote provisionally as well, but they must produce an ID for election officials by the end of the week.
"Indeed, one may understand plaintiffs as seeking for Wisconsin the sort of safety net that Indiana has had from the outset," the appellate judges wrote Tuesday.
The ruling didn't disturb the voter ID law as a whole; it remains in full effect. But ACLU Voting Rights Project attorney Sean Young said the group was thrilled with the ruling.
"Today the appeals court ruled that courthouse doors cannot be shut to those who are most impacted by the voter ID law," Young said.
The state Justice Department is defending the law. Agency spokesman Johnny Koremenos said in an email to The Associated Press that the panel ordered Adelman to consider only a narrow issue in the case and agency attorneys were confident they would prevail.
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