The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wisconsin threw out voter ID Tuesday. It’s a fight still playing out in 12 other states.

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This story has been updated.

A federal judge struck down Wisconsin's voter ID law Tuesday, less than a week after a Circuit Court judge found Arkansas' voter ID law unconstitutional. At least one more court decision should come down before November, but voting rights cases and legislation are brewing in plenty of other places worth keeping an eye on this year.

Here's a guide of what to watch -- and where.


A federal judge ruled in March that Arizona's 2004 law requiring new voters who register by mail to prove documentation of U.S. citizenship was valid. The Supreme Court had invalidated part of Arizona's law last year, after which the state joined up with Kansas, which passed its own proof-of-citizenship voter requirements last year. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the the 1993 National Voter Registration Act had mandated that states use the federal voter registration form, so Arizona's more complicated form -- which opponents say targeted the state's large Latino community -- is not valid. Voting expert Richard Pildes told NPR at the time, "What Justice Scalia has essentially said here for a substantial majority of the court is if you want modifications to these federal forms that have been required up till now, you have to go to this commission to get those modifications."

The decision in Arizona and Kansas' case last month requires that Election Assistance Commission to modify the federal registration form to include Kansas and Arizona's requirements, saying that the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to regulate elections. The case is heading to the 10th Circuit of Appeals later this year.


Last Friday, a Circuit Court struck down Arkansas' voter ID law. On Tuesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court has stayed the decision, and both sides of the case have been given until Friday to make their case to the court.

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin said in a statement on Wednesday, ““I am pleased with the State Supreme Court's decision to stay, and we look forward to the actual State Supreme Court hearings. At this time voters will need to show a picture ID to vote at the polls. Federal law already made first time voters provide ID when voting. My office will continue our advertising campaign to help educate voters on the new requirements.”

The Circuit Court judge, Timothy Fox, cited an 1865 ruling made by the Arkansas Supreme Court which held that the state's constitution prohibited limits on the right to vote. Now that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act has been invalidated by the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, Wendy Weiser, head of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, says we're going to see lots more voting rights cases relying on state constitutions and state courts. And because of that, we're likely to see a lot more cases citing 19th century court cases. "They are relying on old precedents," Weiser says, "because courts haven't had to ask these questions in a long time! The last time we saw this robust a legislative movement against voting rights was during Reconstruction. They don't have a lot of recent cases to draw on."


Illinois voters are voting on a constitutional amendment this November that would expand voting rights. The state legislature passed the measure overwhelmingly  earlier this April, and members of both parties enthusiastically endorsed the amendment. According to the Northwest Herald, "the proposed amendment prevents people from being denied the right to register to vote or cast a ballot based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, sex, sexual orientation, or income." Legislators intended the language to discourage any future voter ID laws from passing in the state. Republican state Senator Matt Murphy told the Herald, “This will send a message loud and clear that it doesn’t matter what your surname is, if you have earned the right to vote you will not be impeded."


Like Arizona, Kansas passed a law requiring new voters to prove citizenship -- with a birth certificate, passport or other documentation -- in order to cast a ballot. Like Arizona, Kansas won its case after a federal judge upheld the law. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the press after the decision, “This is a huge victory for the states of Kansas and Arizona. They have successfully protected our sovereign right to set and enforce the qualifications for registering to vote. We have now paved the way for all 50 states to protect their voter rolls and ensure that only U.S. citizens can vote.”

These two states are the only ones with modified federal voter registration forms, however. The case has been appealed, and will be heard by the 10th Circuit Court in Denver, Colorado this summer or in September. Weiser says the case will be resolved before the November elections.


Voters in Missouri could decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment to require photo ID for voting this November. A bill pushing the amendment passed in the state House earlier this year, and is currently being debated in the Senate. It won't end up on the ballot unless it passes through both houses.

The Missouri Supreme Court had struck down a previous voter ID law in the state.


This November, Montana residents will vote on a referendum that will decide the fate of same-day registration in the state. The state legislature passed the referendum in 2013, but voting-rights groups filed a petition to block the ballot initiative. The state Supreme Court allowed the referendum to proceed this February, but forced a title change -- the referendum originally asserted that they sought to end same-day registration to make state election policies comply with federal law, which is not true. Montana voters have been able to register on Election Day since 2006. More than 28,000 state residents had taken advantage of the policy. Ten states -- plus the District of Columbia -- currently have same-day registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2008, the five states with the highest turnout all had same-day registration. Young people in particular vote more when same-day registration is an option.


Nebraska passed a law allowing same-day registration during early voting last week. The law, signed by a Republican governor and passed by a Republican legislature, proves how voter protection loses its partisan edge in states that aren't battlegrounds or were never covered by federal pre-clearance requirements.

North Carolina

North Carolina's voter ID law was signed two months after the Shelby County decision. In November, the Justice Department sued the state under the Voting Rights Act's Section 2. Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time, "The Justice Department expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to the participation in the political process on account of race."

Weiser calls North Carolina's law a "monster legislative package of voter restrictions." Besides requiring photo ID at the polls, the law also restricts early voting and eliminates same-day registration.

The federal trial won't be held for 18 months, as the voter ID law isn't scheduled to go into effect until 2016. However, the other provisions of the law will be used during the 2014 election and several civil-rights groups are trying to get a preliminary hearing scheduled for July to stay the early voting and same-day registration restrictions.


In February, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Ohio passed a law cutting six days from the state's early voting period and getting rid of early voting same-day registration. Weiser expects that lawsuits will be filed.

The Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, has implemented a new early voting schedule -- which makes times uniform across the state. His reasoning, is that all voters should have the same access to the polls. The ACLU finds the elimination of Sunday voting in non-presidential years and the reduced days for early voting in some counties discriminatory.

Democratic legislators in the state are trying to get a constitutional amendment -- a "Voters Bill of Rights" -- on the ballot similar to the one in Illinois' this November.

Secretary of state elections are a new battleground for the fight over voting rights. As stewards of the election, secretaries of state have lots of power to change the electoral process from state to state. Outside groups, progressive and conservative, are putting big money behind their candidates of choice in several battleground states with powerful secretaries of state. Expect Ohio to be one of the biggest; Husted has been a controversial figure for his election changes.


Last January, a state judge struck down Pennsylvania's 2012 voter-ID law. The decision was 103 pages long, and noted, “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election. The voter ID law does not further this goal.” The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court said on Thursday that they will not revisit the case. The state's Republican governor has 29 days to appeal the decision, which would send the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Regardless, it seems unlikely under any scenario that the law will be in place during the state's primaries next month.

The law has never been enforced due to ever-pending litigation, but the state has spent millions informing residents about the law. Prior to the 2012 election, however, many voters were still unaware about the new voter-ID requirements.


Texas is currently facing a federal lawsuit over its voter ID law. The Justice Department originally sued the state under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. When Shelby County was decided, they filed another lawsuit under Section 2. The trial is in September, so the law will likely be in effect for the 2014 midterms.


In March, the Utah state legislature passed a pilot program for same-day registration where counties can opt-in to a program -- and most counties have decided to join. "It's a big deal," says Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project,  but it's also "not a surprise we got same-day in Utah. In states where elections are closer, that would have been harder." Utah is a deeply red state where few electoral contests are ever nail-biters. In Utah, increased voter registration also undoubtedly helps Republican candidates.

The Democratic Party's voter expansion director told the Salt Lake Tribune they like Utah's new program. "Our job is to make sure we’re working so that everyone votes, not to make sure that Obama voters vote, not to make sure that Democrats vote; it’s to make sure that everyone votes. And so we recognize that this can help Republicans — especially in a state like Utah, it can help Republicans probably in a way that it doesn’t in some swing states."


On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin's voter ID law, saying that it was discriminatory toward minority and low-income voters. The law was passed in 2011 by the state's Republican-controlled legislature, and was declared unconstitutional by a Dane County judge in 2012. The District Court ruling is likely to be appealed. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had previously said he plans to call a special legislative session to make photo identification requirements fit court rulings if the existing law were to be repealed.

The federal challenge wasn't the only court case debating Wisconsin's voter ID law. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments for separate cases concerning the voter ID law in February, filed by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP's Milwaukee branch. There's little indication of when the court will announce its decision.

In March, the state passed a law to limit early voting to weekdays. One Democratic state senator who voted against the measure told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "I feel like I'm in 1906, fighting the fights that people who came long before me had to fight. I would argue it screams of backward-thinking mentality, all the way back to Jim Crow, and you should be ashamed." Weiser thinks that a lawsuit concerning this legislation is likely.

The state is also considering legislation to permit online registration. Eighteen other states currently have online registration systems. Ho sees online registration as one of the policies that expand voting rights that have escaped partisanship. "I don't see any way that could be seen as a partisan issue."

The 2014 midterms will play a large role in influencing voter protection battles in upcoming elections too. The recent spate of legislation facing litigation was passed by Republican majorities made possible by the 2010 midterms. Depending on how the composition of state legislatures changes in November, the country could see a renewed push for voter-ID laws and other types of voter restrictions. Conversely, if Democrats retake legislatures they lost four years ago, rolling back some of these laws could become become the new legislative trend. Already in 2014, state legislatures have proposed more bills to expand voting rights than diminish them. They haven't had as much luck getting passed, however.

Correction. This story originally said that the Arkansas voter ID law does not allow voters to use college IDs. It does allow the use of college ID. The story reflects changes in the Arkansas case as well.