- Associated Press - Monday, March 12, 2012

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge on Monday struck down the state’s voter identification law less than a week after another judge temporarily stopped it, complicating plans for state officials who want the law in place for the upcoming presidential primary.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued the permanent injunction, finding the law unconstitutional because it would abridge the right to vote. He wrote in his eight-page ruling that “voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression.” Although the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker have the power to enact laws regulating elections, they had exceeded their constitutional authority by eliminating the right to vote for certain eligible voters, he said.

“A government that undermines the very foundation of its existence — the people’s inherent, pre-constitutional right to vote — imperils its legitimacy as a government by the people, for the people, and especially of the people,” Niess wrote. He said the disenfranchised would have included “struggling souls” who are constitutionally entitled to vote but lack the resources to comply with the law.

Four lawsuits at various legal stages are challenging Wisconsin’s law. It’s part of the ongoing national debate over whether eligible voters should show ID at the polls. Fifteen states have voter ID laws, and legislation in 31 states includes proposals to introduce voter ID laws or strengthen existing ones. On Monday, the Texas Justice Department objected to its voter ID requirement because it said many Hispanic voters lack state-issued identification.

The League of Women Voters, which filed its lawsuit last year, had argued the law violates the Wisconsin Constitution’s explicit language on every person’s right to vote. Group attorney Susan Crawford said she was pleased with the ruling.

“This is a great day for the citizens of Wisconsin,” she said. “It emphasizes that the right to vote is fundamental and cannot be infringed by the Legislature.”

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said in a statement he would appeal the decision, arguing the law is “consistent with the constitution.”

Government Accountability Board spokesman Reid Magney declined comment. Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie criticized Niess‘ ruling as getting in the way of common sense.

“Requiring photo identification to vote is common sense — we require it to get a library card, cold medicine, and public assistance,” he said in a statement. “Governor Walker looks forward to implementing common sense reforms that protect the electoral process and increases citizens’ confidence in the results of our elections.

The ruling comes almost a week after Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan granted a temporary injunction in a lawsuit filed by the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch and immigration rights group Voces de la Frontera. The groups argue the law disenfranchises voters.

The state’s Republican Party criticized the ruling because records show Flanagan signed a petition in November to recall Walker. They filed a formal complaint with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission arguing Flanagan should have revealed to both parties that he signed the petition.

Wisconsin passed its law last spring amid criticism from civil rights groups that minority groups are most likely to face roadblocks in getting a valid ID. The law was in place for the state’s spring primary in February, and there were few reports of trouble. But critics say it was because the election has a low voter turnout.

The law would require Wisconsin voters to show either a state-issued ID card, valid driver’s license, U.S. passport, a student ID that expires within two years, or a military ID.

Supporters, both on the state and national level, say voter ID laws help prevent voter fraud. Opponents counter there are few documented cases of wrongdoing.