There’s fraud in Wisconsin elections — but the impropriety isn’t happening in polling places on Election Day. It’s being perpetrated in our state Capitol where Gov. Walker and his lapdog Republican Legislature continue to manipulate the rules on voting to gain a partisan political advantage.
In fact, just last week there was a flurry of state legislative activity to advance new laws that would make our electoral system less transparent, less convenient and less accessible.
An anti-voter trifecta was led by an Assembly Republicans’ announcement that they will introduce a new voter ID bill in yet another despicable attempt to find a constitutional way to make voting more complicated for seniors, minorities and students. (State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the Senate would wait on a new voter ID bill until after the courts have ruled on the current law.)
If there was ever a question about what voter ID is really about, recent comments by the Honorable Richard Posner, the federal judge who authored an 2007 opinion upholding the Indiana voter ID law, upon which the Wisconsin GOP’s efforts are based, lays it to rest. He has publicly rebuked his decision, saying voter ID laws are “now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention.”
The Wisconsin GOP’s efforts to manipulate the rules for their own advantage don’t stop with voter ID. Assembly Bill 378 also received a public hearing. The bill, and Senate companion legislation authored by Glenn Grothman, would shield big money donors giving millions of dollars to candidates from disclosure requirements. Current law would be changed to raise, from $100 to $500, the contribution threshold at which a donor must disclose their occupation information. No employer information would have to be disclosed.
Earlier this year, based on information disclosed under the current law, One Wisconsin Now found employees of companies receiving nearly $30 million from Gov. Scott Walker's privatized and failing Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation donated $400,000 to Walker's campaign since 2010. In addition, these companies donated an additional $200,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which has spent in excess of $14 million to support Walker.
Not to be outdone by their Assembly Republican colleagues, Senate Republicans at a public hearing considered a bill all but banning extended and weekend hours for early voting. The impact of Senate Bill 324 would fall most directly on urban areas, working families and nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts like the "Souls to the Polls" program run on Sundays by many churches.
Local clerks, including those in the city of Milwaukee and Madison, offer extended hours for voting to help reduce Election Day congestion and help working people to participate in democracy. In fact, in November 2012 nearly 400,000 Wisconsin residents took advantage of early voting and roughly one in four ballots cast in 2008 were cast early.
We are rightly proud of our tradition of open government, high rates of voter participation and clean elections in Wisconsin. For generations it has been understood that legal voters doing their civic duty and voting is not a problem, it is a public good. Voting ought to be encouraged, not attacked with onerous new laws that serve no purpose but to attempt to disenfranchise certain groups to provide any political party with an unfair advantage.
In response to the thinly veiled racism and underhanded manipulation of voting rules by Republicans, it is time to say simply: Stop it! The voters of Wisconsin are not the enemy.