- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Civil rights advocates have officially filed a petition asking a federal appeals court to reconsider a ruling that reinstated Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project are challenging the Republican-authored law. A federal judge blocked the measure earlier this year but a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Wisconsin election officials could implement the law while that court considers the case. As a result, the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, has been working feverishly to get the law in place in time for the Nov. 4 elections.

The civil rights groups filed the petition late Tuesday asking the court to reconsider its ruling en banc, a proceeding that usually involves around 10 judges rather than just the three that typically decide cases. All three of the judges behind Friday’s ruling were appointed by Republican presidents.

The court rarely grants such en banc requests, but the groups contend that the ruling imposes a huge last-minute change ahead of the election and that the court should vacate the decision to preserve order.

“The panel’s decision to allow immediate implementation of (the voter ID law) this close to an election will sow chaos at the polls and undermine election integrity and public confidence,” the groups wrote in their petition.

They pointed out that nearly 12,000 absentee ballots have already been mailed without photo ID instructions and hundreds of those ballots have been cast without any photo ID and returned to local election clerks.

GAB officials said Tuesday that anyone who has requested an absentee ballot will be contacted and told they must present a photo ID in order to have their ballot count, but the civil rights groups still contend that changing the rules in the middle of voting “runs contrary to the public interest in smooth and effective administration of voting laws.”

The groups contend that there are about 300,000 registered voters who could be disenfranchised because they lack proper photo IDs. Those voters have no way of knowing they need IDs at the polls and state election officials can’t possibly inform them of the requirement in the seven weeks remaining before Election Day.

What’s more, the state Department of Transportation would never be able to process that many ID applications before the elections, the groups insist. They say applicants who lack birth certificates might have to wait weeks for the DOT to verify their birth information.

A spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is defending the voter ID law, declined to comment.

Republican legislators passed a law in 2011 requiring people to show certain government-issued photo ID at the polls to vote. Allowable IDs include driver’s licenses, state ID cards, passports, some college student IDs, military IDs, naturalization certificates or IDs issued by a Wisconsin-based American Indian tribe. Military and permanent overseas voters are exempt from the requirement.

The law was in effect for the February 2012 primary but hasn’t been enforced since then because of multiple legal challenges.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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