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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wisconsin Voter ID Law Struck Down-What Could That Mean For Virginia?

Could this effect the future of Virginia's Voter ID law?
Starting on July 1, 2014, Virginia will begin implementing a controversial “voter ID law.” (VA code §24.2-643(B)) It is considered to be one of the strictest ID laws in the nation. According to the law, only those who have a photo ID will be allowed to vote.

Virginia is not the first state to implement such a law. North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin are all examples of states that implemented similar regulations. The actual statutes vary in each state, but all require a minimum of some form of photo ID to be shown in order to vote.

Virginia’s voter ID law lists the following as acceptable forms of ID:

  • Virginia Driver’s License
  • U.S. Passport
  • Photo ID issued by the United States or Virginia
  • Student ID issued by a university in Virginia
  • Employee identification card
This law is considered by many to be controversial because it disenfranchises specific sets of voters, such as Hispanic immigrants and African American voters. This is due largely to the fact that these populations are more likely to have individuals living in poverty then Caucasian voters -- so purchasing ID or even understanding how to get an ID can be very difficult.

There is also concern that voter ID laws are unconstitutional. The 2011 Wisconsin Act 23, a strict voter ID law, was recently challenged in the United States District Court located in Wisconsin. The judge ruled that Act 23 violated the 14th Amendment by disproportionally prevented minorities from voting (Frank v. Walker, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59344).

Judge Lynn Adelman attacked the law, stating that Voter ID laws do not serve any purpose to prevent voter fraud:
The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past. (id. at )
She furthermore went on to note that voter ID laws cause an unnecessary burden on those who do not already possess a photo ID:
The individuals who obtained their IDs before the photo ID requirement went into effect (or who would today obtain an ID for reasons unrelated to voting) expect to derive benefits from having those IDs that are unrelated to voting. For example, a person who obtains a driver's license receives a daily benefit—the ability to drive—from having experienced the burden of gathering the necessary documents and visiting the DMV...In contrast, a person whose daily life did not require possession of a photo ID prior to the imposition of the photo ID requirement is unlikely to derive any benefit from possessing a photo ID other than the ability to continue voting. Yet that person must pay the same costs—in the form of the hassle of obtaining the underlying documents and making a trip to the DMV—as the person who obtained the ID for driving. This difference in expected benefits results in Act 23 imposing a unique burden on those who need to obtain an ID exclusively for voting, with the result that these individuals are more likely to be deterred from voting than those who already possess an ID for other reasons.( 41)
The Judge stated that Wisconsin's voter ID law preventing so many people from voting, it could effect the outcome of elections:
I find that approximately 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin....lack a qualifying ID.10 To put this number in context, in 2010 the race for governor in Wisconsin was decided by 124,638 votes, and the race for United States Senator was decided by 105,041 votes.Thus, the number of registered voters who lack a qualifying ID is large enough to change the outcome of Wisconsin elections.(id. at 42-43)
Finally, Judge Adelman concluded:
Act 23 has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters because it is more likely to burden those voters with the costs of obtaining a photo ID that they would not otherwise obtain. This burden is significant not only because it is likely to deter Blacks and Latinos from voting even if they could obtain IDs without much difficulty, but also because Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to have difficulty obtaining IDs. This disproportionate impact is a "discriminatory result" because the reason Black and Latino voters are more likely to have to incur the costs of obtaining IDs is that they are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and the reason Black and Latino voters are disproportionately likely to live in poverty is connected to the history of discrimination against Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Finally, Act 23 only tenuously serves the state's interest in preventing voter fraud and protecting the integrity of the electoral process, and therefore the state's interests do not justify the discriminatory result. Accordingly, the photo ID requirement results in the denial or abridgment of the right of Black and Latino citizens to vote on account of race or color.(id. at 120-121)
This ruling is great news for Wisconsin voters, but what could it mean for Virginia voters?

That's hard to say. The 4th District is very conservative, and it is entirely possible the judges will suppose the law (odd as that sounds!). Virginia's Voter ID law is very similar to Wisconsin's. It requires a photo ID, though unlike Wisconsin's law, Virginia will accept veteran ID's as well as expired IDs (as long as they expired after the last election). This makes it easier for some people to vote, but still burdens those who do not already have any form of photo ID.

The difficulties in obtaining a photo ID for people in Virginia are very similar to those in Wisconsin. In order to obtain an ID, an individual must go to the DMV and he or she must present two items proving identity, one proof of legal presence and one proof of Virginia residency. As noted in the Wisconsin ruling, this can be difficult for those who do not have the funds or the time to get access to not only the DMV, but also accepted proof of identification, such as their birth certificate. Arguably, like the law in Wisconsin, Virginia's voter ID law will disproportionally affect minority voters.

So why did the law get passed? Voter ID supporters argue that ID laws will help prevent voter fraud, and reduce illegal voting by minorities. Interestingly, it could have a positive impact on immigrants -- a major source of "disqualification" for immigration adjustment is a "false claim to citizenship." An individual who votes, even in error, who is not a legal LPR (or citizen) is automatically barred from further immigration benefit (i.e. any kind of adjustment). This can lead to a mess of problems -- especially in states where illegal immigrants are permitted to obtain driver's licenses (DC and MD come to mind). Stricter voting regulations might prevent these errors. This is an interesting argument, yet surely the small number of individuals "saved" in this way does not offset the burden placed on the remainder of the population.

That being said, until this law is challenged in court, it will take effect on July 1 of this year.

Do you have an opinion on voting regulations or need help with a constitutional or immigration issue? Give us a ring! 1-800-579-9864.

Hanover Law, PC
Offices in Fairfax, VA and Washington, DC
888 16th St., NW Ste 800
Washington, DC 20006
2751 Prosperity Ave, Ste 580
Fairfax, VA 22031
Sean R. Hanover, Esq.
Stephen Salwierak, Esq.
1-800-579-9864 Charles Hatley, Esq.
Leigh Snyder, Esq.

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