NLCHP, ACLU File Suit Against Wisconsin Voting Law
Restrictive Photo ID Requirement Would Disenfranchise Thousands of Homeless and Poor Persons
December 13, 2011
Today, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit charging that Wisconsin's voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens, particularly homeless and poor persons, of their basic right to vote. The lawsuit is the only active federal challenge against a photo ID law, the most common type of legislation that is part of a nationwide attack on the right to vote.
The Wisconsin law will have a particularly severe impact on homeless voters, many of whom do not have photo ID, nor any way to obtain it. Homeless persons living on the street are unlikely to have identity-proving documents such as a birth certificate or social security card, and getting new copies is cost-prohibitive.
"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," said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. "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."
While homeless persons will be one of the constituencies most affected by the law, there are also broader implications. "This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures," said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the Constitution."
The complaint says 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 states that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax. The lawsuit was filed the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to speak about the importance of ensuring equal access to the ballot box.
"The state of Wisconsin has created a voter ID system that is making it very hard or impossible for residents to exercise their cherished right to vote," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. "Countless Wisconsin residents, including veterans, minority voters and seniors who have been voting for decades, will be turned away from the polls under this law's restrictive photo ID requirements. Our lawsuit aims to block this unconstitutional law so that Wisconsin can continue its proud tradition of high participation in elections."
NLCHP, the ACLU, and ACLU-Wisconsin filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of 17 eligible Wisconsin voters who may not be able to vote under the law, including Carl Ellis, 52. Ellis is a U.S. Army veteran living in a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. His only photo ID is a veteran ID card, which is not accepted under the law.
"If I can serve my country, I should be able to vote for who runs it," Ellis said. "Veterans and others who do not have a certain type of photo ID should not be kept from voting. These laws are undemocratic and un-American."
Attorneys on the case include: Heather Johnson and Karen Cunningham of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty; Jon Sherman, Laughlin McDonald, and Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; and Larry Dupuis and Karyn Rotker of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
To read the full complaint, click here.