John Nichols: Gwen Moore's right: Delay voter ID

Congresswoman Gwen Moore has no fear of Scott Walker. She beat the governor in his first campaign — for the state Legislature in 1990.

But Moore does fear the confusion and potential voter disenfranchisement that could result from a haphazard and ill-planned implementation of the state’s voter ID law.

That is why she has called on the Government Accountability Board to wait until after the November election to begin implementing the controversial rules requiring an approved photo ID in order to vote.

Moore is right to propose the delay.

The voter ID law that was enacted by Republican legislators and signed by Walker was blocked by Federal Judge Lynn Adelman, who sits in Milwaukee, because it discriminates disproportionately against seniors, students and people of color. Adelman’s ruling, which was hailed by legal experts from across the country, should have settled it. But a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in Chicago, has just weeks before the election reinstated the law. The ill-thought out and ill-timed decision, coming from three Republican-appointed judges (including one who Walker, an all-but-announced 2016 presidential candidate, has joked about appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court) has created a chaotic circumstance.

The legal wrangling continues. But Wisconsin officials face the prospect of having to dramatically rework election plans.
Suddenly, there is uncertainty about how to distribute absentee ballots, how to organize early voting, and how to manage things on Election Day. Election officials are asking for significant amounts of money to cover new costs. But the timeline is so short that, even with the money, it is unclear whether they can implement a dramatically more restrictive approach to elections in a little over a month.

The prospect of what Moore refers to as “irreparable harm and mass confusion” is real.

That’s why she has written to Kevin Kennedy, director of the Government Accountability Board, Judge Thomas Barland, GAB chair, and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to remind them that “there are numerous studies demonstrating the harm that will occur to voters who lack qualifying forms of identification under voter ID laws like Act 23.”

Noting Judge Adelman’s finding “that an estimated 300,000, or about 9 percent of Wisconsin voters, lacked a qualifying ID under Act 23’s strict requirements,” Moore added, “It also comes as no surprise that Act 23 would disproportionately affect certain vulnerable subpopulations, including seniors, students, African-Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color. Despite these facts, it is deeply concerning to hear reports that the state intends to fully implement this pernicious law that could disenfranchise so many voters’ fundamental rights in a democratic society.”

Supporters and foes of the voter ID law should be able to agree that a delay simply makes sense. There simply is not enough time to do the necessary public education about the new rules for voting — and to provide free IDs to those who cannot afford them.

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