By Jason Stein and Patrick Marley
With the presidential election only three months away, a federal appeals panel Wednesday blocked a lower court ruling that would have allowed Wisconsin voters without photo IDs to sign an affidavit and cast a ballot.
But part of the voter ID law remains blocked because of a separate ruling in another federal trial court in recent weeks. Voters should keep following the news _ the rules could change again between now and the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee ruled that Wisconsin voters without photo identification could cast ballots by swearing at the polling place that they could not easily acquire an ID. The decision created a pathway for voters with difficulties getting IDs who have been unable to cast ballots under the state's 2011 voter ID law.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago found that Adelman had gone too far in allowing a large group of voters to cast ballots without an ID.
The appeals panel in April indicated there needed to be a way for people to vote if they face significant challenges in getting IDs. That led Adelman last month to issue his ruling allowing people to easily vote without IDs.
But the panel on Wednesday blocked Adelman's ruling while it considers the appeal, saying it believed he had gone too far.
"Our most recent decision in this case concluded that anyone who is eligible to vote in Wisconsin, but cannot obtain a qualifying photo ID with reasonable effort, is entitled to an accommodation that will permit him or her to cast a ballot," the unanimous panel wrote. "But instead of attempting to identify these voters, or to identify the kinds of situations in which the state's procedures fall short, the district court issued an injunction that permits any registered voter to declare by affidavit that reasonable effort would not produce a photo ID _ even if the voter has never tried to secure one.
"Because the district court has not attempted to distinguish genuine difficulties of the kind our opinion mentioned, or any other variety of substantial obstacle to voting, from any given voter's unwillingness to make the effort that the Supreme Court has held that a state can require, there is a substantial likelihood that the injunction will be reversed on appeal."
The three judges who issued Wednesday's ruling _ Frank Easterbrook, Diane Sykes and Michael Kanne _ were all appointed by Republican presidents.
Adelman, a former Democratic state senator, was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton.
GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel said that he was pleased by the decision and would continue to fight to uphold voter ID. Gov. Scott Walker, a fellow Republican who signed the law in 2011, tweeted that "liberal efforts to stop" voter ID were confusing voters.
"Today's decision to halt the injunction issued by Judge Adelman is a step in the right direction. The decision recognized that his previous ruling is likely to be reversed in light of Supreme Court precedent and would create more uncertainty for voters. Voters in Wisconsin support voter ID, and our administration will continue to work to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat," Walker said in a statement.
The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it was considering its options on what to do next.
"The decision by the Seventh Circuit panel guarantees the disenfranchisement of vulnerable Wisconsin citizens in November," said a statement from Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
Parts of the voter ID law have been struck down by a different judge as well, complicating the effect of Wednesday's ruling.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson invalidated numerous election laws that Republicans have passed in recent years, including parts of the voter ID law, limits on early voting and prohibitions on allowing people to vote early at multiple sites.
The portion of his ruling on voter ID is narrower than Adelman's. Peterson's ruling created a way for people who have the most difficulty getting IDs to vote, but did not apply to as broad of a group of people as Adelman's decision did.
The decision by Peterson, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, has also been appealed.
The plaintiffs who brought the two lawsuits are trying to get both cases before the full appeals court, instead of having them heard and decided initially by three-judge panels.
The full court split 5-5 in 2014 on whether to strike down Wisconsin's voter ID law. Since then, one judge has retired, leaving a 5-4 majority that has expressed skepticism of the Badger State's voter ID law.
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