Foundation lawsuit challenges student voter ID requirements

This article was originally published in the Star Tribune on November 20th, 2019. 

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Republicans’ student voter identification requirements are so onerous that they’re clearly designed to prevent students from voting, a group that promotes student voting alleged in a new lawsuit.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Madison. The lawsuit keys on provisions in Republicans’ 2011 voter identification law governing student IDs. Under the law, students can use their university IDs as identification at the polls only if the card contains the issuance date, the holder’s signature and an expiration date no later than two years after the issuance date. Poll workers can accept such a card only if the holder can prove through other documentation that he or she is currently enrolled at the school.

The foundation argues in the filing that none of the “laundry list” of requirements are relevant to confirming a voter’s identity, there’s been no reported incidents of student voter fraud and most universities and colleges in Wisconsin don’t regularly issue student IDs that meet the requirements, forcing students to take extra steps to obtain them.

The group argues that Republicans looked for ways to suppress young voters after they helped Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama win the state in 2008.

“The real-world effect of the restrictions, therefore, is not to address a problem that truly exists, but, rather, to make it significantly more difficult for young Wisconsin voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” the foundation argues in the lawsuit. “Imposing stricter requirements on student IDs was not accidental; it was strategic.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the student ID requirements violate the 26th Amendment, which states that the right of U.S. citizens 18 years old or older to vote can’t be denied based on age.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation is named after one of the three civil rights activists who were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964 while helping black people register to vote in Mississippi. The foundation works to help young people vote and has ambassadors on nearly 60 campuses around the country, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, according to the lawsuit.

The filing names members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission as defendants. Commission spokesman Reid Magney said Wednesday that the commission hasn’t been served and declined further comment. He referred questions to Attorney General Josh Kaul, who will likely defend the commission. Kaul’s spokeswoman, Gillian Drummond, didn’t immediately respond to an email Wednesday morning.

Kaul is a Democrat, and Republican legislators don’t trust him to defend their positions or laws. The GOP passed a series of lame-duck laws in December 2018 giving themselves the power to intervene in lawsuits. Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The Priorities USA Foundation is funding the lawsuit. That foundation is aligned with Priorities USA, a major Democratic group that announced in February that it planned to spend at least $100 million in 2020 battleground states to defeat President Donald Trump. The foundation announced that same month a separate $30 million initiative to finance court challenges to Republican-backed voter laws.