Whatever happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? In a country founded in no small part on the philosophy of democracy by way of self-governance, why in the world would we discourage its citizens from participating in the process? Moreover, given how proudly we boast of this form of government being the sine qua non of enlightened nations and even ask our troops to sacrifice their own lives so that peoples around the world can delight in so-called Jeffersonian democracy, why are we inhibiting our fellow neighbors and family members back home from voting?
Welcome to the new Wisconsin, where the druthers of Republicans are one party-rule via a democratically elected hegemony.
The White Wail of the GOP
So they’re going to go ahead and do what we’ve all known all along they’ve been dying to do but just hoped they couldn’t do, then wouldn’t dare to do ‘cause God knows they shouldn’t do what it is they’re gonna do that we’re no longer capable of preventing them from doing. I am of course referring to state Republicans passing the most anti-democratic (small and uppercase ‘d’) voter ID law in the country: Assembly Bill 7. (To establish that this is not about identity, but more about the id — you know, as in Freud’s concept of the psychic unconscious and its murky hankerings –from here on I will be referring to it as “Voter Id.”)
Though not as extreme as the present Assembly Bill 7, a Voter Id law of some kind has been one of the obsessive focal points of Republicans for the last eight years, but its passage had been continually blocked by the veto power of former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. Now with Republican Scott Walker assuming the mantle, Voter Id has been railroaded – wait, I forgot; we don’t like trains in Wisconsin…unless they donate to our campaigns – streamlined for inevitable approval. Not unlike Walker’s anti-union “right to work” bill that had Indiana’s example in mind, the Voter Id is modeled after a similar bill in Indiana. (Which begs asking the WI Republicans, Why don’t you just move to Indiana? Please do! I hear Terre Haute is lovely this time of year. And who doesn’t enjoy chanting “Gary, Indiana” three times? It’s still the Midwest and has some Great Lake shoreline. The weather’s gotta be better than here! So just go there already and leave Wisconsin to those of us who actually like it here just as it is, winter and all. Enough of this Indiana invidiousness! It’s embarrassing.) What’s on the legislative floor is called Assembly Bill 7, along with Assembly Substitute Amendment 1, authored by Sen. Joe Leibham-R and Rep. Jeff Stone-R, and at its stake-driven heart is the unspoken promulgation that Wisconsin shall no longer be a right to vote state.
Give Me a Reason(able) Why!
If you listen long enough, you’ll hear Republicans reiterate umpteen times that Assembly Bill 7 is “reasonable” and ensures the integrity of voting. That’s dubious at best. A state-issued ID will be required at the polls for anyone who wants to cast a vote. For each and every election. (You’re required to submit a photo ID when registering in the first place, so this extra hurdle is at the very least cumbersome.) In order to avoid falling into the trap of a poll tax, the state will provide an official ID for those who cannot afford one on their own. (In my opinion, this should be everyone, because the right to vote actually is enshrined in the state and federal Constitutions – this is not like joining a gym or Costco – but I’m a liberal who expects everything to be free, right?) Here are the most conspicuous groups who lack the requisite state ID:
* 23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65;
* 17 percent of Caucasian men & women;
* 55 percent of African-American men & 49 percent of African-American women;
*78 percent of African-American men ages 18-24 and 66 percent of African-American
women age 18-24;
* 46 percent of Latino men and 59 percent of Latina women. (Source: http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/blog/2011/01/why-voter-id-is-bad-for-wisconsin.html And for more info than you would ever want or know what to do with, there’s this.)
I can’t find statistics for Hmong citizens in the state, but it’s safe to say that a significant population also would need to apply for a state ID.
Remember: everyone without a state-issued ID, while available to them at no cost, will have to take it upon themselves to go to the DMV and obtain one. That means taking the time to travel to an office actually open. And it’s not like public transportation is gonna get you too far in this state; so you’ll have to ask for a ride to the DMV, which means now at least two people will have to take the time off (presumably from work, ‘cause good luck finding an office open at night or the weekend – or at all).
Sound reasonable so far?
Perhaps – if this were Indiana. But there are several points to consider. Indiana and Wisconsin have comparable eligible voter populations. However – and this is where it gets cute – Indiana is roughly half the size of Wisconsin geographically, yet has twice the amount of DMV locations! Here’s a quick breakdown:
* 26 percent of Wisconsin’s 91 DMVs are open one day a month or less, while none of Indiana’s is open fewer than 100 days a year, and nearly all are open over 250 days a year;
* Wisconsin has only one DMV with weekend hours, while Indiana has 124 offices with weekend hours;
* Three Wisconsin counties have no DMV offices whatsoever, whereas no Indiana county is without a DMV office;
* Over half of Wisconsin’s 91 DMVs are open on a part-time basis, while Indiana provides full-time DMVs in every county. (Source: ibid.)
Tell me, O Muse, what’s Joe and Jane Doe – or, as likely, Do Jojang – gonna do who live in a rural community in the southwest or the northeast, where the nearest location is an hour’s drive odyssey one-way? And how is one reasonably expected to keep track of what hours of what days of what weeks of which month an office is open? I still screw up which week is curbside recycling, and I’m a very green-conscious person. And the good lord knows I’ve amply paid my share to the city parking authority when I’ve forgotten street cleaning and wintertime off-side parking rules of even and odd and if it’s midnight in a leap year and the groundhog saw its shadow and I’m wearing the color blue, unless a black cat crosses my path or I step on a sidewalk crack and break my poor mother’s back, in which case all bets are off and give me a goddamn break!
Race to the Bottom
Before delving further into the nuts and bolts of Voter Id, there’s something well worth mentioning that has received scant attention. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) convened on Monday this week to hear Assembly Bill 7. (For a video of the whole event, feel free to click here.) It was unusual, because the members of the JFC don’t typically meet on Mondays. When word eventually got out that AB 7 would make its urgent way “forward” (I use that word lightly, very lightly) in the Legislature, Rep. Tamara Grigsby, a Democrat and African-American member of the JFC, announced before any such meeting was scheduled that she would be unable to attend, due to personal health reasons. Please take a moment to read her scathing personal statement explaining her absence; it’s well worth it.
Also missing was the JFC’s only other member of color, Sen. Lena Taylor-D, due to a scheduling conflict. Both women represent Milwaukee, unquestionably the state’s largest number of minorities who will be most affected by the implications/requirements of AB 7. Both women ensoul the personhood and passion of the minority experience, both personal and representative. By deliberately scheduling the JFC’s executive session when both would be absent was anti-democratic at its most essential and smacks of the privilege of being oblivious to the reality of race. Like everything else in AB 7, it’s despicable and disgusting.
Jauch to Joe: Say It Ain’t So!
What all’s else in this bull – I mean bill? Here are two additional aspects that on the surface may sound benign but are inherently deleterious:
1) Primaries will be changed from the second Tuesday in September to the second Tuesday in August;
2) The requirement that a voter live at a residence for a minimum of 10 days is now being bumped up to 28 days – effective immediately once the bill is passed;
3) Student IDs will have a two-year expiration date;
4) The window of time to vote absentee is going from 30 days prior to the election to only the Monday-Friday week before the election (which excludes the weekend and the Monday before the election).
In other words, as demonstrated elsewhere in the substance of this bill, we’re making it harder for people to vote, period. This isn’t just about photo IDs, alright?
Since I’ve never cared much for logical order, let’s examine #2 first. The rationale for the change in residence stay is that it is more in keeping with the national average. That seems to be in keeping with Republican orthodoxy: conformity. Heaven forfend that Wisconsin be unique, or uniquely lenient, when it comes to letting people exercise their right to vote. (Exercise or exorcise?) Wisconsin ranks second in the nation in voter turnout, but apparently that’s a bad thing and needs to be curbed. But there’s much more to it than that. Do you recall signing a petition or canvassing districts to collect signatures?
That’s right: the recall elections! Currently, four out of six Republicans will be facing a recall election in July (with the other two probable but as yet confirmed by the Government Accountability Board). And guess what? Of the six total, four of them sit on the powerful JFC that passed the bill Monday afternoon. (They include Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, Randy Hopper, and Luther Olsen.) Surprise, surprise… But you know who else sits on that committee? Rep. Jennifer Schilling-D, who represents the Lacrosse area and is running against Sen. Dan Kapanke (same area) in one of those certified recall elections. One last pop quiz question: guess which demographic time and again has the greatest voter turnout in the Lacrosse area? College students at the UW-L.
So let’s talk about students, those nomads of the noumenal. They tend to be a flighty type of people, moving hither and yon, fall semester, spring semester, winter and summer breaks, etc. Assembly Bill 7 will undoubtedly pass – and soon – because the Republicans have the numbers and are numb (at least selectively deaf) to why the Voter Id is bad and unnecessary. And because this new 28-day requirement will go into effect immediately after the governor signs it into law, it will be in effect just in time for the recall elections in July.
Granted, a student whose address has changed before the election has the option to return to their registered voting address to cast a ballot, but how realistic is that, especially for those who live far away from the dorms, or are on a summer internship, or whatever. Absentee ballot? Not anymore!
Now let’s look at #1. What’s happening the 2nd Tuesday in August? In Madison at least, it’s right around the time of the Great Hegira, by which I mean huge swaths of transients (myself included, including this summer) move into new apartments the leases to which begin Aug. 1st or 15th. Lucky the elector schlepping boxes out of U-Hauls in the month’s middle, who presumably had been living at their previous address for at least 28 days before the primary. Those who are still dusting up, painting, or dry-walling patches will be shit out of luck caught betwixt and in between.
But you know what else is going on those 2nd Tuesdays in August, irrespective of residency? Summer vacations! What better time to hold an election than when people are least likely to be at home! Brilliant, just brilliant.
Even Kevin Kennedy, the Director of the Government Accountability thought this an undue burden and urged that it be reconsidered.
Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Leibham
“The state’s broke.” “We have no money.” How often have you heard that since January? Well, apparently we happen to have a cool $7.4 million minimal lying around to spend on fixing the electoral process that is neither broken nor even blemished. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, in the next two years it will cost the state $4 million to issue photo IDs to residents who can’t afford them on their own, on top of a basic $2 million cost for the Government Accountability Board to implement the changes in the law, as well as an additional $1.4 million for the UW system to comply with the changes in student IDs. Still sound reasonable?
About those student IDs. They will now have to include a current address, birthdate, signature, and two-year expiration date. No school in the UW system currently complies with that standard, and it’s highly unlikely that many private colleges do either. As shrewdly pointed out in a letter by the ACLU of Wisconsin to Sen. Darling and Rep. Robin Vos – the co-chairs of the JFC – there is a reason for this: privacy and safety concerns. But when’s the last time Republicans have given quarter to privacy?
Irony, Thy Name Is “Voter Fraud”
Perhaps you’re wondering how any of this hearsay and heresy came to be in the first place. In other words, why is this even being done? Why make it more difficult for people to vote? Why spend millions of dollars to make it more difficult for people to vote? Why act now all of a sudden despite a much ballyhooed economic crisis to spend millions of dollars to make it more difficult for people to vote in a state with one of the best turnout rates in the entire nation? Is it because we vote “too much”? Is Wisconsin guilty of that old line about voting early and voting often? In a sense, yes – at least that seems to be the theme amongst Republicans.
It’s not like shuffling off to the polls on a Tuesday (unlike almost all of the rest of the planet that sensibly does so on the weekend) thanks to completely anachronistic nonsense with zero relevance to the schedules of contemporary reality isn’t strange enough. Or commemorating these plebiscite motifs in November and April, i.e., rather chilly months in lots of places in the country when the weather’s particularly shitty and standing outside in the cold and/or rain-snow-sleet-etc is a far cry from fun. Or waiting in long lines due to understaffed and not always efficient volunteers (though there are exceptions, bless their hearts!). Or discovering that your polling place has run out of ballots, and oh geez we’re sorry, but we gotta ask you hold on just a coupla minutes then, OK then, yah thanks.
Not unlike democracy itself, the whole process of going to the polls is messy and takes longer than you’d like. You have to be patient and stand around til it’s your time, listen to your neighbors’ annoying conversations, or a bawling baby about to throw up on you. The old folks take way too damn long, and the younger kids come in dressed like they’ve just rolled out of bed (but it’s three in the afternoon). You’re reminded of being in grade school enslaved to alphabetical order. You’re beginning to fear you didn’t put in enough change in the meter and that you’ll find a ticket on the windshield. You’re getting a headache trying to parse all the double negatives and whereas’s and be-it-resolved’s of the referenda questions so as not to vote the wrong way while a toddler runs into your bad knee and breaks your train of thought, and you don’t hear the volunteer call out “Next…” and everyone in line behind you shouts at you or shoots you mean looks, and now you’ve just become That Person whom they’ll be talking about later.
In short, voting sucks. So why would anyone in their right mind go through this whole harangue twice and thus be genuinely guilty of voter fraud? No one would. I mean, maybe a couple crackpots on both sides of the aisle, or a bitter ex-wife, or a vindictive brother-in-law. Maybe. But no one in earnest, and not enough to warrant the whacko reactionary druthers of Wisconsin Republicans who are hell-bent on passing what has been called the most extreme and restrictive voter identification law in the country.
Yet, along with “reasonable,” another word you’re likely to encounter amongst the proponents of the Voter Id is “integrity”: that it protects or ensures or restores the integrity of the system. Well, hell, who wouldn’t be for that? So this engenders two questions that demand immediate explanation: what evidence is there that abuse has taken place, and how will AB 7 actually redress these foibles? Right? This is at the heart of fiscal conservatism: someone comes to you and claims that there is a problem and it will cost x-amount to be repaired. Do you just say Okey-dokes and fork over the cash needed to fix things? Of course not; you ask what the problem is, what caused it, and how the proposal will actually improve matters.
The problem: ineligible votes have been cast.
The solution: require a state-issued photo ID at the polls but also make it a lot harder (and annoying as hell) to comply with the new law.
The cost: seven-and-a-half million bucks.
Ineligible votes cast? My God! We must restore the integrity of the process at all costs. We must protect our republic from democracy itself! Because this paranoia has been such a bugaboo for Republicans over the years, an audit was conducted after the 2008 national election, jockeyed by the high horse of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen who alleged there had been widespread systemic abuse. A two year-long study followed, paid for entirely by your and my tax dollars. What juicy abuse did it unearth, what be afraid, be very afraid fraud did it find? Out of nearly 3 million votes cast, 11 were deemed improper – which equates to four ten-thousandths of one percent (0.0004%) of the total vote. Of those 11, 8 were ex-cons who actually showed up to vote, waiting on line to do so – this was when Obama was on the ballot, remember – not twice or even three times, but once. They used their real name and present address (but were nonetheless ineligible because of their current status, not because of a fake ID or lack of one). Scandal! Infamy! Perfidy!
Excuse my language, but this is fucking ridiculous. Eight former inmates vote without knowing they weren’t yet eligible to do so? Good lord, we should be rewarding this behavior! How many Americans don’t bother to do so much (which is to say so little) as cast a bloody ballot? A deplorable lot, that’s how many! That individuals who have actually been to prison and done their time still give a shit to participate in the process, this is something of a miracle! Unless you’re a tough love Republican who’s swapped prosecution for persecution, in which case it’s called fraud.
But here’s the kicker: the photo ID requirement will do nothing – nothing – to protect or to restore or whatever bullshit infinitive the quote unquote integrity of the system. We are not making it harder for ineligible voters to cast ballots; we’re making it harder for all voters to cast ballots eligibly. And that’s what’s so ironic: the justification to protect the electoral process from fraud is itself fraudulent; and by protecting the integrity of the vote all we are accomplishing is adding superfluous impediments to the process.
(For the record, of the remaining 3 improper votes, 2 were cases of someone voting twice, and one was a request for an absentee ballot for a deceased spouse. Out of 3 million votes cast, 3 single votes are found to be fraudulent. This is statistically irrelevant in and of itself, but additionally so when one wonders about how many mistakes and discrepancies are inevitably made at the polls by clerks and volunteers around the state due to nothing more than human error. This audit was your tax dollars hard at work, “courtesy” of the Department of Justice.)
Is this Voter Id bill going to help the economy any? Create new jobs? Get us fast and right on the road to recovery? Of course not. Then why are we doing it now? Initially, I dismissed the whole huff and fuss of Voter Id as a solution to no known problem on the mere merits of the matter (or lack thereof). But I believe it goes deeper.
Only two months ago, Van Hollen’s brouhaha from the 2008 election culminated in the arrest of five persons: two for voting twice, one for voting while still on probation, and two for improper filing of voter registrations. It’s these last two worth mentioning. Both worked for ACORN, the now defunct and somewhat discredited collection of community-based organizations that outreached to lower income neighborhoods over issues such housing, health care, and yes, voter registration. (Say what you will of ACORN – the record’s checkered – but they advocated for the voiceless; by no means holy or perfect, they did honorable work.) The two charged by the Department of Justice were accused of registering voters multiple times in order to meet quotas. (It remains to be seen whether the Attorney General pursues justice as fervently against the questionable canvassers collecting signatures to recall the Democratic state Senators…) Assuming that this is so (one has plead guilty), Van Hollen is right to prosecute. But this is not tantamount to voter fraud by way of one individual casting multiple ballots; indeed, there is not a shred of evidence suggesting this.
What ACORN represented was empowering the dispossessed. There’s no reason to be PC about this: its advocacy tended to target minorities, not in a predatory way like a payday loan lenders, but in an enfranchising manner. (That occasional workers and volunteers alike acted unethically is at its worst hyper-compensatory – worthy of criticism, but hardly excoriation.) For better or worse, lower- and middle-income minorities typically vote for Democrats. It’s hardly irrational to infer that Republicans have castigated ACORN both here in Wisconsin and around the country for isolated cases of negligence as a pretext to discredit an organization whose work lends itself to actuarial support of the Democratic Party in order to further weaken the Democratic Party.
Along with the poor and people of color, the elderly and students will be most impacted by AB 7. In other words, all traditional pillars of support to the Democratic Party. It sure won’t be white homeowners in Pewaukee or West Bend who will be taking the brunt. The Republican Party of Wisconsin, in a shameless and truly pathetic display of excess, adolescence, and partisan payback is sacrificing the constituency of the state and attacking its most vulnerable members in a transparent effort of further hurting the viability of the Democratic Party. It wasn’t enough to attack the unions (who in turn traditionally support Democrats); now we have to go after private individuals, too.
I just don’t get this. Republicans are all about gun rights and property rights and state rights and the right to life and the right to bear arms and the right to work. So why aren’t they for the right to vote? Make no mistake about this: it will be easier to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin than it will be to participate in the democratic process.
Remember when back in February the 14 Democrats left the state, depriving a quorum, to prevent the Republicans in the state Senate from passing the bill to eliminate collective bargaining? One of the tactics the Republicans threatened and even began to implement to lure/trick the 14 back was the Voter Id bill – which at its core was holding those most affected by the bill hostage. (The Republicans were stopped dead in their tracks faster than a light rail from Madison to Milwaukee because there would have been fiscal consequences, as we have seen, and only non-fiscal items could have been debated without a quorum.) Well here it is again come reared its ugly mug, a power grab of a grubbing political party alight with a desperate and spiteful bonfire of vanities and inanities.
Republicans repeatedly point out that they don’t think it’s asking too much to present ID at the polls. But that’s a red herring. As explained above, it was not lack of a photo ID that led to the voter “fraud” in the 2008 election; so not only is this a solution to no known problem, it’s not even a solution. Yes, in today’s world of hypersuspicious vigilance we’re required to show ID for most everything, whether we’re boarding airplanes or just cashing a birthday check from grandma at the bank. But still I contend, and believe we all must, that voting is different, indeed sacred. Not only is it an actual constitutional right (and not a privilege, which essentially is what flying or renting a movie is), it’s something altogether different and unique, and thus should be on a separate echelon altogether.
The cant of Republican pabulum is pretty impressive sometimes. Imagine yourself voting in rural or urban Wisconsin, and the poll worker who’s actually your cousin or best friend or neighbor of 30 years has to tell you that you can’t vote without your ID, and no it’s not good enough that your husband vouches for you. This is the ugliest essence of Big Government running amok and meddling in the lives of private ordinary people. Why is this OK for conservatives and tea partiers? Moreover, why is it honky-dory for them that tax payers will be shelling out $7.4 million for the poor to have state IDs?
When you first register to vote you need to submit a photo ID. The burden of proof falls on the individual at this preliminary stage. Why is it necessary to proffer this each and every time thereafter? It’s redundant and will only make voting take longer than it already does. (And let’s not even go into those decade-old photos of us when we still bore the brunt of pimples, bad haircuts, and braces, the image of which bears next to no semblance of our present day selves, and the awkward explanation to the poll worker that this is really you, even though you looked like crap back then.)
Wisconsin is rich in participatory democracy, and our system exists to make it easier, not more cumbersome, to vote. This is a high model to uphold. Why we would compromise this and tarnish our own reputation without just cause is what each and every citizen should be asking to ourselves but more importantly, to the Republicans in the State Legislature. It’s just plain wrong, and we will no longer be what we were, once this goes into effect.