NLCHP, ACLU Add New Charges in Suit Challenging Wisconsin Voter ID Law
Amended Complaint Says Law Violates Voting Rights Act Protections for Minority Voters
Press Type: Press Release Associated Program: Civil Rights
MILWAUKEE, Wis. - The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, and Dechert LLP have amended their challenge of Wisconsin's voter ID law to include charges that it illegally blocks minorities and veterans from accessing the ballot box.
The suit also seeks an injunction to allow many of the named plaintiffs to vote on April 3, when Wisconsin will hold its presidential primary and local elections.
Today's filing strengthens a federal challenge against one of America's most restrictive voter ID laws, which will affect a broad range of Wisconsinites. Plaintiffs in the case include white, black, and Latino voters; homeless and low-income citizens; veterans; and students.
"These new charges can't be ignored," said Karen Cunningham, legal director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. "Minorities and veterans are severely over-represented among homeless and poor people, whose votes this law most endangers."
"We can now demonstrate what we have always suspected-that strict photo ID laws have a more severe negative impact on black and Latino voters," added Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The Voting Rights Act was created to combat exactly this type of barrier, and we intend to see it enforced in Wisconsin."
The original suit, filed in December, said that Wisconsin's practice of only allowing certain types of photo identification imposes severe and unjustifiable burdens and imposes a poll tax on voters.
The amended complaint claims the voter ID law:
"To say that such practices are outrageous is an understatement," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. "It is unconscionable that Wisconsin would prevent veterans who possess a valid federal ID from voting. This is no way to thank them for their service to our country."
- Violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans the use of voting practices that have a disparate negative impact on racial and language minorities. Research commissioned by the ACLU indicates the law has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to lack photo ID accepted for voting in Wisconsin.
- Arbitrarily prevents veterans who only have a Veterans Administration ID card from voting. Wisconsin deems such identification unacceptable .
- Violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because Wisconsin often relies on the discretion of state employees to issue an ID, rather than employ a concrete set of rules. Sherman noted three plaintiffs in the case, all senior citizens lacking birth certificates, were each given different instructions on how they could proceed.
One of those veterans is Sam Bulmer, 63, who served in the Air Force for 13 years and is currently homeless. Bulmer lacks a driver's license and cannot obtain a state ID card due to the stringent requirements for a birth certificate in his home state of Kansas.
"Mr. Bulmer's experience is startling, but not unique," said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. "Veterans experience homelessness at an alarming rate, and many will be excluded from the democratic process if this law goes forward. We need to send a clear message to Wisconsin and every other state considering similar legislation: we won't let you silence the voices of homeless veterans."
Also among those suing are two black Milwaukee residents: Eddie Lee Holloway, Jr., who has a defective birth certificate and is adamant that he should not have to pay to vote, and Shirley Brown, 73, who was born in Louisiana at home by midwife and lacks a certified copy of her birth certificate.
The defendants include: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, who runs the Department of Motor Vehicles; and members of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees election laws.
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; Larry Dupuis and Karyn Rotker of the ACLU of Wisconsin; and Neil Steiner, Craig Falls, and Diana Prince of Dechert LLP.
To read the amended complaint in Frank v. Walker, click here.
For more information on homeless persons' civil rights, click here.
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