Federal judge won’t decide on student ID voting requirements before election

    Student ID
    University of Wisconsin-Madison sample ID. (Screenshot | Wisconsin Elections Commission)

    In a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s laws on the acceptance of student IDs for voting, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that he wouldn’t weigh in before the general election to avoid “chaos and confusion.” 

     The plaintiffs counter that this causes unnecessary obstacles for student voters.

    The lawsuit, Common Cause Wisconsin and Benjamin Quintero v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, aims to remove the requirements that a student ID have an issue date, an expiration date two years from that issuance date and a signature

    U.S. District Judge James Peterson canceled a hearing scheduled for Thursday morning saying he did so because it is now six weeks before the November election. 

    “If the court were to issue an order changing the status quo now, it would leave the Commission and municipal clerks with little time to issue new guidance and retrain staff,” Peterson wrote. “The nearly inevitable appeal would mean weeks of uncertainty as the case was reviewed by the court of appeals and possibly the Supreme Court.”

    “Any order from this court in favor of the plaintiffs could lull student voters into complacency, believing that they now held an ID valid for voting, only to find out on the eve of the election that an appellate court had reached a different conclusion,” he continued. “This would leave both students and universities scrambling at the last minute to obtain compliant IDs.”

    Most Wisconsin colleges and universities issue voter compliant student IDs to all students or issue voter compliant IDs when requested. If a student’s ID is expired, the ID can still be used to vote if the student provides documentation of their enrollment at the school.

    Most Wisconsin students can ask their schools for voting compliant IDs. For students at schools that do not offer compliant IDs, they will need to obtain another photo ID, such as a driver’s license, state ID or U.S. Passport. Information about photo ID requirements is available at bringit.wi.gov.

    Jay Heck, executive director for Common Cause Wisconsin, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said the obstacles he believes the current law places in front of students trying to vote should have been lifted before November. 

    “We are very disappointed that the Court has decided not to provide much needed relief before the election,” Heck said. “The onerous burden and the obstacles placed on college and university students in Wisconsin to be able to vote with a photo ID from their institution is greater than in any other state in the country.  The effect of this delay is that many thousands could be disenfranchised for November 3rd. But we feel very good about our chances of prevailing in this matter when the court decides it after the election.”

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    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.