The federal voting rights case One Wisconsin Institute et. al., v. Gerald Nichol et. al. kicked off with testimony from a former high-ranking Republican legislative aide revealing Republicans were “giddy” over the prospect of passing a voter ID law. In their deliberations, GOP senators expressed hope that the law would help them win elections and suppress votes in “urban areas” and on college campuses.
Voter ID is just one example in the five-year campaign perpetrated by Wisconsin Republicans to make voting less convenient and more difficult in order to give themselves an unfair partisan political advantage. They have systematically and purposefully changed the rules to discourage the electoral participation of minorities, younger voters and lower-income voters — people who tend to vote for Democrats.
This is not just an argument made by lawyers in court; it is the experience of front-line election administrators, experts who study elections, and far too many eligible and legal voters in Wisconsin who simply wanted to make their voices heard.
The city of Milwaukee Election Commission executive director, Neil Albrecht, testified about the impact of voting law changes on Milwaukee voters, especially minorities and low-income residents. He noted that in the most recent presidential primary election the turnout percentage in the city of Milwaukee lagged behind the statewide average by nearly 10 percent, a gap far higher than the less than 2 percent difference observed in 2008.
Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl detailed how the GOP’s election law changes created delays at polling places and prevented voters from casting ballots. She testified that polling places now need over twice as many staff to administer elections, and early voting is down due to new restrictions.
Professor Barry Burden shared extensive analysis of how the recent, dramatic changes to state election laws have resulted in significantly lower rates of electoral participation by groups targeted for suppression by the GOP — younger, poorer and minority voters, who tend to support Democrats. Professor Ken Mayer added that there was concrete evidence that voter ID disenfranchises voters saying, “It is not inferential at this point.”
Lorraine Minnite, likely the nation’s leading scholar on voter fraud, testified that there have been zero cases of in-person voter impersonation in Wisconsin. She also noted that the voter ID law will not prevent any kind of voting fraud other than nonexistent in-person voter impersonation and that the GOP has displayed a “consistent pattern” of using unsupported allegations of voter fraud for political gain.
Our case is about the real people behind these statistics. People like Anita Johnson who work everyday to register new voters, but whose efforts to encourage participation in our elections have been stymied by law changes that seek to exclude, instead of include, citizens’ participation in their democracy.
And people like the legal voters who are caught in a bureaucratic labyrinth and wait months for the state to rule on their requests for ID — and if they die before getting it, the DMV classifies it as a “customer-initiated cancellation.”
Nor can there be any dispute that disturbing racial disparities exist in Wisconsin’s system for issuing voter IDs: where nonwhite voters are both much more likely to have to petition for an ID to allow them to vote, and are much more likely to be denied.
While it might be working for Republicans, this assault on voting is not working for Wisconsin. The efforts to manipulate election laws for the personal political advantage of Gov. Walker and the GOP are corrosive to our democracy, discriminatory in their impact and impermissible under federal voting rights law.
Scot Ross is the executive director of One Wisconsin Institute.
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