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Wisconsin voter ID, election laws don't have impact on turnout, judge says

Voters take to the polls at Milwaukee City Hall April 5, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Voters take to the polls at Milwaukee City Hall April 5, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (2016 Getty Images)

Republicans seemingly approved more than a dozen new Wisconsin election laws to secure a partisan advantage, a federal judge said Thursday.

However, he said that while opponents had made a "pretty decent case," he isn't convinced the measures actually had a dramatic effect.

The laws being challenged include provisions of the voter ID requirement, particularly the process used to grant free IDs to people who are undocumented, limitations on early voting times and places and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.

The judge, U.S. District Judge James Peterson, said he didn't "see anything powerful in either way" about what effect the laws have had on turnout.

"I don't see anything really compelling showing the voter ID law or any of the other changes had a powerful impact on any of the elections," Peterson said.

Peterson's comments came in closing arguments of a lawsuit challenging the laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker since 2011. 

He promised to rule by the end of July but has said that will be too late to affect the Aug. 9 primary for the field of candidates running for dozens of state and federal races will be narrowed before the Nov. 8 general election.

An attorney for two liberal groups challenging the laws, including the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls, argued that they should be found unconstitutional and stopped from being enforced. But a state Department of Justice attorney said there was no evidence to support a wholesale undoing of the laws.

"They're going for the home run," Assistant Attorney General Clay Kawski said. "They just haven't shown that."

The plaintiffs argue that the laws discriminate against the poor, racial minorities and younger voters who are more inclined to vote Democratic. The state Department of Justice counters that they have not suppressed turnout and the state works hard to ensure everyone who needs a free ID to vote gets one.

The lawsuit was brought by the liberal group One Wisconsin Institute Inc., social justice group Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and 10 voters.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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