U.S. District Judge James Peterson this week upheld Wisconsin’s voter identification rules for college students. Common Cause and other groups challenged the requirement that student IDs display the student’s signature, an issuance date, and an expiration date. Peterson found that such rules were rationally related to the purpose of combatting voter fraud.
In order to pass constitutional muster, § 5.02(6m)(f) had to be found to be rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. Peterson found that it does despite noting that ‘[i]f the question were whether the requirements at issue were likely to advance an important state interest, the court might well conclude that they don’t. But that isn’t the standard.”
The Seventh Circuit previously ruled on the student ID question, though in a different legal framework. In Luft v. Evers, 963 F.3d 665 (7th Cir. 2020), the court considered a variety of challenges to Wisconsin voting regulations, including one part of § 5.02(6m)(f). The court of appeals considered the question under an Equal Protection Clause (rather than the Anderson-Burdick framework of the most recent case).
While finding that requiring IDs to be current served a legitimate purpose, the court balked at the fact that “a student ID card, alone among the sorts of photo ID that Wisconsin accepts, is not sufficient for voting unless the student also shows proof of current enrollment.” This led to confusion and the defendants moved for clarification. The Seventh Circuit then stated:
“Our opinion holds that the state may not require student IDs to be unexpired, when the student provides some other document demonstrating current enrollment. The point of our decision is that requiring two documents from students, but not other voters, needs justification, which has not been supplied. But a student who appears at the polls with an expired student ID card, and without proof of current enrollment, need not be allowed to vote.”
In this latest decision, Peterson noted that there was a rational basis for concern over student ID cards:
“Common Cause Wisconsin says that the requirements for student IDs are irrational because ‘most common forms of photo identification are accepted as voter IDs exactly as issued by the state, federal, or tribal government which issues the ID.’ … But that is exactly the point. The content of nearly all of the other voter IDs is regulated by another state or federal statute, making them more recognizable and uniform, and potentially making them harder to fake. That’s not the case for student IDs. Common Cause doesn’t identify any uniform standards that Wisconsin colleges and universities have adopted, which other courts have found to be a reason to treat student IDs differently.”
Jon Sherman, senior counsel for the Fair Elections Center, responded to the ruling by again calling the college ID requirements “absurd.” He added that “unlike the forces that continue to relentlessly assault our democracy and the right to vote, we have immense respect for the rule of law, the Court, and its consideration of our claims.”
Peterson is not easily dismissed as some anti-Democratic jurist. He is an Obama appointee who previously struck down voter limitations, including limitations on early voting in 2016.
Here is the decision: Common Cause v. Thomson