Despite two separate Wisconsin courts striking down the state's voter ID law as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, the state legislature's incoming Assembly Leader, Rep. Robin Vos, has pledged support for amending the state constitution to require ID at the polls -- despite hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents not having ID and no significant evidence of voter fraud in the state. Vos is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) State Chair for Wisconsin; Wisconsin's voter ID law, like many of those introduced in recent years, echoes the ALEC "model" voter ID Act.
"The people's fundamental right of suffrage preceded and gave birth to our Constitution," Dane County District Judge Richard Niess wrote in his March decision striking down Wisconsin's voter ID law as unconstitutional. "Not the other way around."
Rep. Vos spearheaded the effort to pass the ALEC-inspired voter ID act in 2011. Courts blocked the law a few months later.
In a separate decision finding the law violates the Wisconsin Constitution's express protections for voting rights, Dane County Judge David Flanagan said the state's strict voter ID requirement "tells more than 300,000 Wisconsin voters who do not now have an acceptable form of photo identification that they cannot vote unless they first obtain a photo ID card."
With the voter ID law blocked in part because hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites faced disenfranchisement, Vos could have promoted greater access to ID cards so the law would not have such a pernicious impact. But people of color and students are most likely to lack the forms of ID required under the law -- populations that tend to vote Democrat -- and instead of taking steps that could help the law pass constitutional muster, Vos is talking about changing the constitution.
"Yes, I would favor that," he said when asked if he would support a constitutional amendment in an appearance on WISN's Up Front With Mike Gousha. "It also takes two sessions, so that wouldn't be until 2015, even if we did begin that process."
Amending the constitution requires that a bill be passed by two consecutive legislatures but that prospect may not be remote. Republicans redrew the legislative boundaries to favor their party after taking control of the governor's mansion and both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature in 2010. In 2012, under the Republican-drawn maps, Democrats came away with 53% of the vote in the state Senate race but nonetheless lost two key seats. In the state's 99 Assembly districts, Democrats got more than 52% of the vote, but won just 39% of the seats. If those trends continue Republicans could control the state legislature for several election cycles, making a constitutional amendment a real possibility.
Vos asserted "that having photo ID is something that is broadly supported by the public" and that "hopefully we can get a statute passed that will be in effect for the 2014 election or sooner." Polls do show public support for requiring photo ID at the polls, but the experience of neighboring Minnesota shows that the more people know about voter ID laws, the less they support them. A full 80 percent of Minnesotans polled last year supported a ballot measure that would have added voter ID to that state's constitution, but after a public education campaign, support dropped by 20 to 30 percent. The ballot measure was defeated on election night, 54-46.
Vos also advocated an end to Wisconsin's same-day voter registration law, which has helped the state achieve one of the highest voter turnout rates in the nation and would likely impact the same communities most affected by a voter ID law. Just weeks after Wisconsin reelected President Barack Obama and elected Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate, thanks in part to near-record turnout from people of color and students, Governor Scott Walker expressed support for ending same day registration. Two legislators have since indicated they are writing a bill to end the 40-year-old law.