- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Opponents of Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to take emergency action and block the requirement ahead of the Nov. 4 election, arguing there isn’t enough time to implement the new rules.

The request comes less than five weeks before an election involving the closely watched race between Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who supports the law, and Democratic challenger Mary Burke. State elections officials have been scrambling to prepare since the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the law should be in effect while the court considers the latest legal challenge.

The groups behind the lawsuit, The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project, argue that the 2011 law is unconstitutional, in part because it unfairly burdens poor and minority voters who may not have valid IDs. The law hasn’t been enforced since the February 2012 primary because of legal challenges, and opponents argue that enforcing it with such short notice will create chaos at the polls and disenfranchise voters.

“There is no compelling reason for election officials to re-engineer restrictive voting rules so close to an election,” said Penda D. Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization. “In a democracy, there can be no moral justification for election officials to request, and the courts to sanction, this sort of manipulation of voting rules.”

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a staunch defender of the rules, said the request was “surprising and disappointing.” He said the ACLU was changing its position, saying the group has long argued that the law shouldn’t be changed so close to an election.

“Apparently they’ve abandoned that view and are no longer concerned about voter confusion,” Van Hollen said.

But the ACLU said it’s against requiring photo IDs, a law that was in effect only for one low-turnout 2012 primary before being blocked in the courts. Imposing the requirements now would fuel “voter confusion and election chaos,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Similar disputes have arisen in nearly a dozen other states, including Pennsylvania and Texas. Republicans who back such laws say they’re designed to combat voter fraud. Critics say they’re crafted to keep Democratic-leaning constituencies - such as minorities and poor people - from voting.

Wisconsin’s law requires people to show certain government-issued photo ID at the polls to vote. Anyone who doesn’t have the proper ID on Election Day can cast a provisional ballot, and they would then have until 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election to present the required ID to have the vote counted.

Republican lawmakers passed the requirement in 2011, and Walker quickly signed it into law, calling it a common sense reform. But the law was soon caught in legal challenges.

In the latest court fight, a federal judge struck the law down in April and issued an injunction to block the law from taking effect during the appeals process. But that injunction was lifted by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit last month, and the full court later denied a request to reconsider that decision.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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