Federal Judge Finds Conservatives Voting Restrictions Motivated by Intentional Racial Discrimination

Finds WI Legislature and Governor Walker Violated 15th Amendment prohibition against denial of the right to vote based on race

Madison: Late Friday a federal judge ruled that major parts of the voting restrictions laws passed by the conservative legislature and signed by Governor Walker between 2011 and 2014 are unconstitutional and that several constitute intentional racial discrimination against African American and Latino voters in Milwaukee.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s charitable arm, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, was a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Other plaintiffs included One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action community organizer Anita Johnson, Renee M. Gagner, Cody R. Nelson, Jennifer S. Tasse, Scott T. Trindl, Michael R. Wilder, Johnny M. Randle, David Walker, David Aponte, and Cassandra M. Silas.

The ruling by Federal District Court Judge James D. Peterson invalidates restrictions on absentee voting and the imposition of longer residency requirements. Judge Peterson also finds that the process for acquiring a photo ID for the purpose of voting unconstitutionally disenfranchised qualified voters.

The bombshell in the ruling is Judge Peterson’s conclusion that Governor Walker’s and the conservative legislature’s restrictions on early voting violate the 15th Amendment, the post-Civil War constitutional amendment that outlawed the denial of the right to vote “based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The legal standard for this finding, as explained in the very well reasoned ruling, are high. The plaintiffs had to prove that there was an intentional effort to disenfranchise based on race.

In his decision Judge Peterson found that “the sight of long lines of Milwaukee citizens voting after hours” motivated conservatives in the legislature to restrict early voting. “The legislature passed the provisions restricting the hours of for in-person absentee voting motivated in part by the intent to discriminate against voters on the basis of race.” Peterson concluded: “The legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means to achieving the objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.”

“The willingness of conservative politicians to deliberately disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, young people, and many others for crass partisan advantage is an afront to the fundamental principles of American democracy,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The progress in restoring the fundamental American right to vote in this and other recent court decisions has been made possible by of tireless work of Wisconsin voting rights advocates who have refused to allow injustice to stand.”

Judge Peterson’s ruling takes effect for the November general election. The impacts include:

  • Restrictions on early voting hours are overturned, except for the day before the election

  • Restrictions on the number of early voting locations are thrown out, because they discriminate against African American and Latino voters in Milwaukee

  • The extension the residency requirement from 10 to 28 days is invalidated as an intentionally attempt to restrict voting by college students.

  • Finds that the ID Petition Process (IDPP), the process for acquiring and ID for voting when a qualified voter lacks basic documents is unconstitutional and must be replaced.

  • Some rules governing the use of student IDs and dorm lists are also invalided.

  • The prohibition against distributing absentee ballots by fax or email are overturned.

Media Contact

Contact: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324 robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org



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