By James Kelleher
A Wisconsin judge agreed on Thursday to hear a challenge to the state's new voter ID law, passed last year by lawmakers concerned about ballot-box fraud but which critics say suppresses voting by the elderly and poor.
The decision clears the way for arguments to be heard on March 9 in the suit, which attempts to overturn the law on the grounds it violates the state constitution.
Dane County Judge Richard Neiss said he believed constitutional concerns raised by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, which filed the suit, deserved to be heard.
But Neiss also agreed to hear an objection raised by the state Department of Justice, which is defending the law and contends the League lacks standing to bring the action.
The Republican-controlled legislature passed the voter ID law last year, requiring voters to present identification such as a driver's license, state ID or passport at polling places when they vote.
The voter ID measure was part of a raft of legislation backed by Republican Governor Scott Walker that set off mass protests in Madison last winter and triggered a fierce political backlash from Democrats and union supporters last summer. Walker now faces a campaign to recall him from office.
Supporters of the law, which would be in full effect in time for November's presidential vote, say it is necessary to ensure the integrity of elections.
Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader in the state Senate, has repeatedly defended the measure as a "common sense reform" that assures people their vote "isn't getting cancelled out by someone else's fraud."
Critics say it discriminates against the elderly and the poor, who may not have a valid ID.
In its brief, the League of Women Voters contends the legislature overstepped its bounds when it passed the measure last year and says arguments that identification is required for other everyday transactions are off the mark.
"When people say you need an ID to board an airplane or cash a check, they are talking about a privilege, not a constitutionally protected right," said Melanie Ramey, president of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
Thirty states require voters to show some form of ID before voting, according to the National Council of State Legislatures website.
In 14 of those, including Wisconsin, the ID must include a photo of the voter.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta)
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.