We now live in a state where some people are scrambling to figure out how they will regain their right to vote once it is lost.
Wisconsin’s purposeless voter photo ID law was in place for only two weeks before a Dane County judge ordered the state to cease enforcement of Act 23 because, among other reasons, “…some 221,975 constitutionally qualified voters in Wisconsin” don’t have a drivers license or photo identification. Lacking IDs, they couldn’t vote.
Circuit Judge David Flanagan’s March 6 order granting a temporary injunction to kill the bill at least for the April 3 general election upheld the case brought by the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera. The 11-page order noted that qualified Wisconsin voters who don’t have a driver’s license “are disproportionately elderly, indigent or members of a racial minority.”
Evidence of the order’s truthfulness is strong, but the state GOP immediately whined that Flanagan should have announced that he was among more than a million signers of petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker, as though that meant he couldn’t do his job.
What began as a costly (to local property taxes), wasteful, unnecessary and confusing voter ID law for municipal clerks and poll workers who scrambled to enact the law, became an abrupt about face with Flanagan’s order. Republicans are now rushing to appeal their complaint and try to re-enact Act 23 by April.
The worst possible consequence of this dizzying activity in the rotunda would be for progressives to stop fighting. That’s why the March 25 People’s Legislature, a coming-out party for the Tin Cup Movement sponsored by FightingBob.com, is so timely and important. The disasters fostered by radical right wing lawmakers ridicule democracy and representative government. The FitzWalkers are founded and funded by the rich.
Flanagan’s order is a very readable primer on constitutionality. A heading on Page 9 states: “The photo identification requirement of Act 23 has been shown to be an improper impairment of the Constitutional right to vote.” Logical explanations are provided.
The voter ID law is part of the ongoing and disastrous maelstrom of FitzWalker legislation swirling through secret sessions and early morning confabs run by Republican zealots in Madison over the past year. Act 23, passed along party lines in May 2011, would require voters to show a photo ID and sign a poll list before voting in any election beginning now. Other and less clearly defined changes to rules and procedures are part of the law, and are causing no small amount of puzzlement to clerks and election workers.
A case reported in the news told of a 77-year-old woman from Brookfield who was born in Tennessee and doesn’t have a birth certificate or other mandated documents needed for the “new” Wisconsin voter ID.
If ever a law needed undoing, Act 23 is it. Opposition to what is likely to be the strictest voter ID law in the U.S. should be a multi-partisan gathering point since it will trample on your rights no matter what party or ideology you support.
In southwestern Wisconsin where I live, the people feeling the first wave of Act 23 suppression are elderly white people.
In recent weeks I spoke to seven township, village, and county clerks in southern Sauk and northern Iowa counties. Without knowing for sure, I’d guess at least half of the people I talked to tend toward the GOP. But none of them had anything kind to say about Act 23. Their comments, in some cases, were surprisingly emotional. Among other things, clerks and election officials now need to attend lengthy Government Accountability Board training sessions and study documents like, “Voter ID and Provisional Voting Information for Election Day Officials,” all of which add to the expense and frustration embodied in Act 23.
In Iowa County, several elderly women came to register of deeds Dixie Edge in Dodgeville trying to obtain birth certificates in order to apply for free state-issued voter IDs. The problem is that birth certificates aren’t free.
“They just broke down in tears,” Edge said. “They didn’t need a birth certificate to get married. Some have never driven so they don’t have a driver’s license. Our hands are tied because of the legislation. There is nothing we can do to waive that birth certificate.”
The Iowa County situation sounds a lot like the problems facing the woman in Brookfield.
“The voter ID law is really hitting the elderly,” I was told by Greg Klusendorf, Iowa County clerk. “A $20 fee for a birth certificate is a lot of money for someone on a fixed income.” (In Dane County, board chair Scott McDonell proposed waiving the fee, three-fourths of which goes to the state).
Sauk County Clerk Rebecca DeMars, saying she hadn’t yet received many inquiries about the voter ID law, speculated: “If somebody comes in to vote but doesn’t have an ID, it could be a nightmare for poll workers.”
In those cases, provisional ballots are issued and can be returned by the voter, if an ID is provided, up to 4 p.m. on the first Friday after the election. That means delaying the official canvass of votes, and forces municipalities to re-schedule staff time and office hours. More importantly, it discourages participation in the democratic process by voters who are likely to give up in despair.
Over the years, I’ve visited more rural Wisconsin polling places than I can remember in order to write about the turnout and report on the elaborate potluck menus provided by or for the poll workers, most of whom have run the flag up the pole on election day for decades. Some of them even ring a bell and proudly call: “Hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open.”
The idea of voter fraud, FitzWalkers’ stated target in cramming Voter ID down our throats, would be viewed either as scandalous or a joke to the good citizens working the rural polls. They’ve been known to carry ballots to vehicles bearing handicapped people, and carefully preserving the voter’s right to secrecy when dropping the marked ballots into the box.
Even when the turnout is high, there can be lapses of hours during which nothing happens at some of the township halls on high windy ridges of the driftless area. At times like that, the homemade potato salad and venison stew come in handy to pass the time.
This is a watershed election year for democracy. As many as six elections could be held in some areas with primaries for local offices, a presidential election, and a Walker recall.
A town clerk who last year was outspoken in his criticism of the Wisconsin Uprising, told me last month: “They can’t vote if they don’t have a photo ID. It’s going to scare a lot of people away from voting.”
A village clerk said, “I don’t care if it’s a poll workers’ husband, they have to have an ID.” Said another, “If the purpose was to make it more difficult for people to vote, this will do it.”
What better time than now to challenge FitzWalker and further unite the million strong recall signers with an Occupy the Election movement? Educating ourselves about this wasteful voter ID law, and helping each other to get to the polls is extremely important this year.
Like the register of deeds said, “So many people will go to the polls without knowing they need a photo ID. The law is difficult to understand. I’m afraid they’re not going to find out until it’s too late.”
A conscientious public servant justly worries about disenfranchising elderly voters. The only people who try to discourage voters are the recipients of big bucks bound to special interests. Let’s require candidates to rely on ideas not income, public policy not profit, and Tin Cups rather than bottomless pockets.
March 11, 2012
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David Giffey is a freelance journalist and FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Arena. He is the author of "Long Shadows: Veterans’ Paths to Peace" (Atwood Publishing), "Struggle for Justice: The Migrant Farm Worker Labor Movement in Wisconsin," and "The People’s Stories of South Madison."