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Wisconsin voter ID law a burden to poor, minority voters, federal judge rules

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

MILWAUKEE — A federal judge struck down Wisconsin's voter identification law on Tuesday, declaring that a requirement that voters show a state-issued photo ID at the polls imposes an unfair burden on poor and minority voters.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman sided with opponents of the law, who argued that low-income and minority voters aren't as likely to have photo IDs or the documents needed to get them. Adelman said the law violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. He said the law appeared too flawed to fix with legislative amendments.

Adelman's decision invalidates Wisconsin's law and means voter ID likely won't be in place for the fall elections, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker runs for re-election. While Walker committed last month to calling a special legislative session if the law were struck down in court, his spokeswoman wouldn't commit to that.

“We believe the voter ID law is constitutional and will ultimately be upheld,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email. “We're reviewing the decision for any potential action.”

The ruling could set a precedent for similar legal challenges in Texas, North Carolina and elsewhere. There are 31 states with laws in effect requiring voters to show some form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven states have strict photo ID requirements similar to the one a state judge struck down in Arkansas last week; that decision has been appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Pennsylvania's voter ID law has been put on hold because of court challenges.

Earlier this month, President Obama waded into the voter ID debate, accusing Republicans of using restrictions to keep voters from the polls and jeopardizing 50 years of expanded voting access for millions of black Americans and other minorities.

A Dane County judge blocked Wisconsin's law in state court. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in two separate lawsuits in February, although it's not clear when the justices will issue a ruling. For voter ID to be reinstated, the state's high court would have to rule that it doesn't violate the state constitution, and Adelman's decision would have to be overturned on appeal.

Wisconsin's Department of Justice, which defended the state law in court, pledged to continue the fight.

Meanwhile in Arkansas, the state's highest court temporarily stayed a judge's ruling striking down the state's new voter ID law, saying it wants arguments by the end of the week on whether the restriction should remain in place.

The Supreme Court issued a two-page order granting the state's request to stay Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox's ruling last week voiding the new law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. Fox ruled the law, approved by the Legislature last year, violated Arkansas' constitution.

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