Republicans in Wisconsin have been pushing to alter the state's voting laws for some time now, arguing 'til they're blue in the face that we need the changes in order to ensure the integrity of our elections. On the face of it, protecting our elections from fraud is a noble enough goal. Who wants people casting fraudulent ballots?
The problem, of course, is that fraud is almost nonexistent at the polls in Wisconsin (even the current debacle in Waukesha County appears to be more a case of negligence than fraud) or nationwide. Our state currently enjoys some of the easiest access to the polls in the country, what with our motor-voter laws and same-day registration. That's how it ought to be -- no one should have to fight to exercise their rights.
But too many conservative legislators want to construct obstacles on the path to the voting booth. Currently, the Assembly is voting on the newest version of a bill that would see those obstacles created. It would require that people show photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot -- effectively disenfranchising everyone without ready access to official identification.
Seniors, minorities, rural citizens, and students would likely be the ones feeling the most negative effects.
The updated legislation would allow students to show school ID, but it would need to include a photo, birthdate, signature, and up-to-date address. Most college and university ID cards do not currently include all of that information, meaning they would need to institute a costly program of updating the cards, and then issue a steady stream of new cards whenever students move.
Not only that, but the bill also shifts the fall primary date from September to the second week in August -- meaning that many students simply wouldn't be around to participate. Primaries are important for two reasons: They represent the time when many people register at the polls, and they represent an opportunity for voters to get educated about the issues and candidates in advance of the final election.
The September date is especially crucial for students, who often rely on get-out-the-vote efforts on campus to get registered and educated. If you hold the primaries in August they might not even be moved in for the year, let alone on campus to get the information they need.
Those people who live in more rural areas would also likely feel the sting of this bill rather acutely. Under the proposed legislation only official Wisconsin state identification (as well as military and student IDs as already mentioned) are valid. The only place to get such ID is at a DMV center -- and there are three Wisconsin counties that don't have a single one.
In addition to that, many rural centers only open their doors for a few days a month, further limiting access to rural residents. This equals an especially big slap in the face to someone who doesn't already have a driver's license, for instance, when they'll now have to find a way to travel an hour or more to get one in order to even vote.
Lower income and/or indigent citizens would, of course, be hard-hit by this legislation as well. In order to obtain official state ID one needs to present a valid copy of a birth certificate -- something that, if you don't already have one, can be a lengthy and expensive process. How, too, do people without permanent addresses go about getting ID at all?
According to several studies voter ID laws tend to have a negative impact on minority voter turnouts. For the 2004 election participation in state's that required photo ID was down 4 percent -- 10 percent among Hispanics, and 5.7 percent among African and Asian Americans.
Minority populations, especially the younger generations, are statistically less likely (PDF) to possess driver's licenses -- African Americans, for instance (PDF), have driver's licenses at half the rate of whites.
The elderly would also face an uphill battle, as "an estimated 23 percent of persons aged 65 and over do not have a Wisconsin driver's license or a photo ID," and 70 percent of them are women.
Why disenfranchise students, minorities, and seniors?
The changing face of the American population may have a little something to do with it:
The 2010 Census found that the US Hispanic population grew by 56% over the last decade to 50.5 million, and these Americans heavily lean Democratic. According to a survey done by Latino Decisions, 92% of eligible Latinos registered to vote in 2008. Of those 92%, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 3 to 1 (61%-17%).
I don't think all Republicans do want that, frankly, but there are enough who've either bought into the BS voter fraud line and/or that conceal (or show with pride) a deep-seeded fear of these groups of people that the ID-to-vote movement has been making headway.
Voting is one of the most fundamental rights we have in this country. Our ancestors fought and died for it -- some had to fight and die for it against their own countrymen and for a much longer time, even. These disenfranchising ID laws would set us back years as a state and a nation, and spit on the memory of those who've gone before.
Republicans are thinking of including the collective bargaining provisions currently tied up in the courts in the two-year budget when it comes up this summer. Sen. Alberta Darling, soon to be facing recall election, has stated that "she prefers to let the process play out in the courts. But... if the changes aren't in place by June 30, they may have to be attached to the budget bill to make the ledgers balance." In other words, either the courts rule in Walker's favor or they wedge the provisions in someplace else, regardless. Democracy!