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Federal judge won't rule before election on challenge over Wisconsin student ID requirements

A federal judge in Wisconsin said Wednesday he will not rule before Election Day on a lawsuit over student ID requirements for voters, stating that it would cause “chaos and confusion” to make a change this close to the election. 

U.S. District Judge James Peterson said the decision on the case will wait until after the Nov. 3 presidential election and canceled an oral argument set for Thursday. 

“If the court were to issue an order changing the status quo now, it would leave the Commission and municipal clerks with little time to issue new guidance and retrain staff,” the judge wrote

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“The nearly inevitable appeal would mean weeks of uncertainty as the case was reviewed by the court of appeals and possibly the Supreme Court. Any order from this court in favor of the plaintiffs could lull student voters into company, believing that they now held an ID valid for voting, only to find out on the eve of the election that an appellate court had reached a different conclusion,” he added. “This would leave both students and universities scrambling at the last minute to obtain compliant IDs.” 

Peterson also noted that voting is “already underway” in Wisconsin and that the state election commission has already issued its Election Day manual for municipal clerks that explains the requirements for voting with a student ID. 

Common Cause Wisconsin filed the lawsuit in April 2019 challenging Wisconsin's requirements for student IDs to qualify as voter ID. The lawsuit did not challenge the state's voter ID as a whole but rather specific student ID requirements such as an issuance date, an expiration date and a student’s signature. 

The group argues the requirements are unnecessary and create barriers for student voters. 

Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said the group is "very disappointed" in the court's decision to delay a ruling until after the election, adding that it could disenfranchise voters in the upcoming election. 

"The onerous burden and the obstacles placed on college and university students in Wisconsin to be able to vote with a photo ID from their institution is greater than in any other state in the country," Heck said in a statement. "The effect of this delay is that many thousands could be disenfranchised for November 3rd. But we feel very confident about our chances when the court decides the matter after the election."

Updated at 7:09 p.m.