Voter ID Worst of Shameful Deeds

Voter ID Worst of Shameful Deeds

--Dave Zweifel, Editor Emeritus of The Capital Times

This Legislature and this governor have done some shameful deeds over the past five years, but none is more shameful than their enactment of one of the country's most restrictive voting laws.

At a time when we all should be doing our best to get citizens to vote and making it as easy as possible for them to do so, the people who are running Wisconsin government decided to do just the opposite: Make it harder and more inconvenient, especially for folks, mainly the poor and elderly, whose lives aren't as flexible as most people's.

A report last week that the state has done little to educate voters about the new voter ID law and the other hurdles they'll face starting with the Feb. 16 spring primary spoke volumes about how cynical this entire process has been. While even Southern states like Mississippi and Alabama have conducted advertising campaigns to educate voters about their changes, Wisconsin's state government hasn't set aside any funds to do likewise.

Instead, the state is relying on "public service announcements" that radio or TV stations may run if they have room (typically at 2 in the morning) or hoping that voters will go to a Government Accountability Board website and educate themselves. Never mind, of course, that many of the voters most affected by the new law probably don't have computers.

But let's be honest here. The entire voter ID crusade, spearheaded by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, has had everything to do with suppressing votes among likely Democratic constituencies. Gov. Scott Walker and the legislative leadership cooked up a story that voter IDs are aimed at preventing election fraud, a completely bogus argument. The only conviction for fraudulent voting in Wisconsin's last election was of a Milwaukee man who voted six times for Scott Walker — and a voter ID wouldn't have stopped him.

Even Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner, a conservative Ronald Reagan appointee, found Wisconsin's voting law overly restrictive, pointing out that people without driver's licenses have to take time off from work, arrange transportation, and have all the papers necessary to obtain an ID. If they don't have the papers, they will have to visit another agency — a register of deeds for a birth certificate, for instance — and take more time off work and find transportation. Besides, Posner added, if voter ID is intended to thwart fraud, how come states without it have no fraud?

Posner was joined by four of the other 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judges, but five other conservative appointees backed the law and voter ID stood on a 5-5 tie when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

Nothing is more undemocratic than denying a U.S. citizen the right to vote in an election. 

This crew of Republicans, led by a governor who has a reputation for bending the rules to his advantage, threw away decades of Wisconsin law that encouraged voting. They will go down in Wisconsin history for their shame.  

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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