MILWAUKEE — Opponents of Wisconsin's voter-ID law hope that a recent win on the East Coast bodes well for their efforts to get Wisconsin's law overturned.
Last month, a Pennsylvania judge struck down a requirement that nearly all of the state's 8.2 million voters show photo identification at the polls. A federal judge is considering a similar challenge in Wisconsin, and his decision could be issued in the next few weeks.
Pennsylvania's case was a challenge to a state law, so it wouldn't necessarily influence the outcome in other cases. But the Wisconsin trial is a federal one, which means it could set a precedent for legal challenges in Texas, North Carolina and other states.
Wisconsin's Republican-backed law passed in 2011. It was only in effect for a single primary in February 2012 before a Dane County judge declared it unconstitutional. Opponents pursued a federal trial while that decision and others were appealed.
The law would require voters to show a state-issued photo ID at the polls. Supporters say it would cut down on voter fraud and boost public confidence in the integrity of the election process. Opponents counter that the law excludes poor and minority voters disproportionately because they're less likely to have photo IDs or the documents required to get them.
Individual voters and groups that represent minorities challenged Wisconsin's law in federal court. During an eight-day trial in November, the plaintiffs produced witnesses, many black, who said they had trouble obtaining a state-issued ID. They said their efforts were met with bureaucratic obstacles that took time, money and legal assistance to overcome.
The plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project.
Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's voting-rights project, said while U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman hasn't said when he might rule, the judge has hinted that he sees the case as one that ought to be resolved quickly.
The Pennsylvania judge, state Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley, released his decision six months after the trial. Ho said he was pleased that McGinley recognized what a burden it can be for Pennsylvania voters without IDs to obtain one.
"Many of them will be disenfranchised. That's exactly the same story we have witnessed in Wisconsin," he said.
Adelman was appointed to the bench in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.
The Wisconsin lawsuit was filed against members of the state's Government Accountability Board, which enforces the voter-ID law. The board was represented in court by the state Department of Justice, whose lawyers argued that voters who want an ID can easily get one.
Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said Pennsylvania's decision has no bearing on Wisconsin's case.
"There is no nexus or precedent applicable to our pending case in federal court in Milwaukee," she said.
Two other challenges to Wisconsin's voter-ID law are working their way through state courts. The Wisconsin Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for those cases on Feb. 25.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.