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Federal Judge Orders State To Expand, Clarify Voter ID Outreach

State Has Failed To Properly Educate Public About Law, Judge Rules

Woman signing up to vote
Jim Mone/AP Photo

A federal judge has ordered the state to make changes to and expand its public education efforts surrounding its voter ID law.

U.S. Western District Judge James Peterson issued the order Thursday, following a Wednesday hearing and continued arguments Thursday morning.

“It’s not really going to address all the problems we have implementing Wisconsin’s voter ID law,” Peterson said of his order. “What we’re doing here is patching it up, getting us in good enough shape to get through the November election.”

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Peterson ordered the state to update and create new public information materials about a petition process for people who can’t easily obtain a state-issued ID for voting. The updates will be a handout given to people who enter the petition process; the new documents will include a one-page explanation of the petition process.

“To me, undeniably, there were people who were disenfranchised by the ID petition process,” Peterson said. “I think the problem here is a lack of information.”

The documents must be submitted for the judge’s approval by Friday. Peterson wants the documents to be distributed to media, statewide voter advocacy organizations and municipal clerks by Monday.

Peterson also ordered the state to expand its outreach efforts to educate the public on the law. State lawmakers approved a $250,000 voter education campaign earlier this year, but Peterson said it hasn’t been sufficient.

“I have no trouble ordering the state has to come up with funding for a component of it,” Peterson said of the education campaign.

He ordered the state and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which include liberal groups One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, to submit a plan for the expanded education efforts by the end of next week.

Peterson also ordered the state to update him on its implementation of his order every Friday until the election, as well as the Friday following Election Day.

“Close court supervision of the reform process is going to be necessary,” Peterson said, instructing advocates to reach out to state officials and the court if they know of eligible voters having trouble getting a valid ID.

Peterson said he was disinclined to strike down the entire voter ID law, as plaintiffs in the case requested.

“It’s clear to me I don’t have the authority to issue a brand new injunction,” he said.

The federal judge also said it would be “unwise” to make such a sweeping change so close to the Nov. 8 election.

Plaintiffs said they were pleased with Thursday’s order, despite not meeting their goal of striking down the voter ID law in its entirety.

“We were very pleased with the judge’s order,” said lawyer Josh Kaul, who represents the liberal groups that brought the lawsuit. “He ordered a lot of reforms that we think are going to help make it easier for people to access the right to vote and get the ID they need to vote. Now it’s up to the state to take that order very seriously.”

The state Department of Justice will not seek a stay or appeal Peterson’s order.

“After yet another attempt by the plaintiffs to strike down voter ID, the law remains in effect for the November election,” said DOJ Spokesman Johnny Koremenos.

An appeal of Judge Peterson’s July ruling in the case is pending with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.

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