The desire to return to the “way things were” can be a sweet sentiment. What can be wrong with a return to better, simpler times? But nostalgia in politics normally means longing for a better time for certain groups only — namely white men.
Legislators try to do this in a litany of ways. Pushes for abortion restrictions and “traditional marriage” are the most natural examples; but the largest looming threat is an attack on voter rights.
Wisconsin state Rep. Jeff Stone’s voter suppression bill, AB 225, is clear: Only certain voters are desired, the ones who have long run this country.
In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin, Stone stated, “If we want to have an efficient, accurate, effective voting system, really the best way is that way we’ve done it for hundreds of years, which is to have people come to the polls on that one day.” He added: “I think from a cost standpoint that really is the best way to administer elections.”
Hundreds of years ago, Election Day allowed only land-owning or taxable white men the chance to vote. We’ve come a long way since then, enfranchising people of color, women, Native Americans, the poor, qualified electors over 18, and even military members serving overseas. America has a clear pattern of expanding voter rights, not contracting them.
Nostalgia for “hundreds of years ago” is a dangerous notion.
Efficient elections would be unrepresentative, but perhaps that’s what Stone and co-sponsors of the bill want. According CNN exit polling, if the old model of only white men voting had stood in 2012, Mitt Romney would have won with 501 electoral votes.
Maybe that is why voter ID laws, shortening of time for absentee voting, and no guarantee that every vote would count are suddenly hot button issues. Thirty-five states are currently considering legislation.
Twenty-six percent of our electorate is now composed of minorities. Two-thirds of young and minority voters voted for Obama in 2008.
Naturally, Stone’s bill hits poor, minority, and young voters hardest.
Let’s not forget Stone’s other objective: cost. Mandating voter ID is a costly measure for Wisconsin. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that the real cost of voter ID would be $5.7 million. Wisconsin cannot afford Stone’s “cost efficient” elections.
Jeff Stone says he’s trying to “build a system that people can have confidence in.” The only system voters should have confidence in is a system where everyone has their equal say on Election Day.
Frances Black is an intern at One Wisconsin Now and is mathematics major at Smith College entering her senior year in the fall.
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