Compiled by Courier Staff
On Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 Congresswoman Gwen Moore was joined by elected officials and community leaders at a press conference held at her Milwaukee office addressing the proposed Voter ID law that Wisconsin’s new Governor Scott Walker and the State Legislature are trying to push through.
Moore felt that it was fitting to hold such a press conference on the Feb. 3, the Anniversary of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This Amendment states that the right of U.S. citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude- this was ratified on Feb. 3, 1870.
It is also fitting that this issue be a front page lead story for the Black Press in Wisconsin, as we enter the month of February celebrating Black History Month. This proposed law infringes on any community of color, women, seniors, students, and the poor. Moore stated:
“Wisconsin’s new Governor Scott Walker and the State Legislature are waging an allout attack on Wisconsin voters. The multi-pronged attack starts with the most-restrictive voter identification law in the country. It could continue with ending same-day voter registration and make absentee ballot voting more cumbersome. I am, along with my office are currently working with the NAACP, ACLU, OneWisconsinNow, Demos and other groups to protect voting rights in Wisconsin.”
The voter identification bill would only allow Wisconsinites with a military ID or either a DMV-issued driver’s license or ID card the opportunity to vote. Currently, Indiana has the most restrictive voter ID law in the nation. Indiana’s law, which allows for more types of identification-including U.S. passports and college IDs from state colleges and universities-was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
This proposed law is not new for Governor Walker, who Moore says she argued against him years ago when he was in the legislature pushing for this law. An obvious question that arises when this discussion comes up is; Does Wisconsin have a vote fraud problem, and do we need this law? The answer is simple “no”.
Vote fraud in Wisconsin is extremely rare: Wisconsin’s Attorney General JB Van Hollen’s 2-year investigation on the 2008 election found 20 potentially improper ballots out of nearly 3 million total votes cast or about 0.000007 percent of all votes cast.
Second question; Who could this law deny from casting a vote? Answer; Right now, a staggering amount of voting-aged Wisconsinites do not have valid driver’s license. Here are some stats in more detail: 83 percent of Wisconsinites, 23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65; 17 percent of White men and women; 55 percent of all African American men; 49 percent of African American women; 46 percent of Latino men; 59 percent of Latino women; 78 percent of African American males age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24.
Wisconsin legislators who are for this bill say that it is being modeled by Indiana’s Voter ID bill, but this claim does not hold up due to the restricted identification requirements that the Wisconsin bill is asking for.
Proponents of the Voter ID law are claiming that the ability to obtain the necessary ID would not hinder voters, and that claim is just not true. In fact, this law would not even address or prevent one of the most common offense of voter fraud, which is a felon voting while still on paper. Having a current driver’s license does not prevent this offense from occurring, anyone can find a way to obtain that ID legally or illegally. How would this really hinder voters, look at some facts:
Low income and hourly wage workers cannot afford to take time off work to obtain an ID at the DMV.
The elderly often do not have the transportation or other means to reach a DMV, and some might have ailments preventing them from applying at a DMV.
Busy university students often do not have the resources or the time to take off from their studies. A robust public awareness campaign would have to be conducted to make students aware of their right to vote, and how to attain it.
When it is already difficult to get time off from work, for Wisconsinites in rural parts of the state this is especially true. For many, traveling long distances on a work day is a hardship.
DMV services are not very accessible for Wisconsin citizens, for a 4.35 million voting population, there are only 91 DMVs across the state. 23 percent of the 91 DMVs are open one day a month or one day every other month.
Wisconsin has only one DMV with weekend hours in Dane County, compare that to Indiana which has 124 offices with weekend hours.
Three Wisconsin counties have no DMV offices, while every Indiana county has a DMV. And finally, only 24 of Wisconsin’s 91 DMVs are open on a full-time basis, while Indiana provides fulltime service at 124 of their 140 DMVs.
The way the law stands now, Wisconsin has a high voter turnout compared to many states, Much of this is credited to the ease that is involved with the voting process. Attorney Walter Lanier of the Milwaukee NAACP was among the community leaders that spoke at Thursday’s press conference. Lanier had many concerns with this proposed law, and he stated that this law takes many steps backwards in American history. He stated that especially at a time when we celebrate our history, this is a time that we need to “protect a rich investment”.
Too many suffered, and even died to obtain this right. It is also ironic that prior to the 15th Amendment the vote that was attempted to be suppressed was the Republican voter. At that time that was the party that embraced the poor and disenfranchised. Now, this same party, that now reflects a different demographic is pushing for this type of voter suppression.
If the Wisconsin proponents for this bill have their way, they would want this law to begin and be in effect for the April 2011 election season. The millions of dollars that this would take to accommodate this law is too high, especially for what the economy is right now.
“If the new administration thought high speed rail was too expensive to maintain, then how can they justify spending a lot more on instituting a Voter ID law.” State Senator Spencer Coggs stated.
In summation, this law is asking for a lot and offering nothing in return but suppression of votes. For those who know history, a law of this type resembles tactics that were used once the 15th Amendment was passed. States especially those in the South had a entire arsenal of tactics aimed to discourage and prevent especially African Americans from voting. This is a law that will come up against much opposition, but voters need to make their voices heard. The challenge is that the State Legislature now has a GOP majority, and if there are any republicans who are opposed to it, they are remaining silent.