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“What Are You Waiting For, Democrats?”: Voter ID Laws Are Having Their Intended Effect. It’s Time To Do Something

The biggest news out of the Wisconsin primary isn’t about the horse race, which is largely unchanged. It’s about the election itself—about how the voting happened. As soon as polls opened in urban centers like Madison and Milwaukee, there were reports of long, almost intolerable waits. Students at universities around the state faced hourslong lines to cast a ballot. Others waited just as long for a chance to change their registration.

The proximate cause of these long lines in urban, student-heavy areas is the state’s new voter identification law backed by the Republican legislature and Gov. Scott Walker. It implements strict new requirements for valid identification that excludes most student IDs (in response, some Wisconsin schools have begun issuing separate identification cards for students to vote) and requires voters without official identification to go through a cumbersome process even if they’ve voted in the past. Writing for the Nation, Ari Berman describes elderly, longtime voters who were blocked from the polls for want of the right papers. “Others blocked from the polls include a man born in a concentration camp in Germany who lost his birth certificate in a fire; a woman who lost use of her hands but could not use her daughter as power of attorney at the DMV; and a 90-year-old veteran of Iwo Jima who could not vote with his veterans ID.”

But this was more than predictable—it was the point. “I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up,” said one Wisconsin Republican congressman, Rep. Glenn Grothman. “And now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”

If the urgency of the issue wasn’t obvious, Grothman made it plain. Voter ID laws in Wisconsin and beyond are a direct attack on democracy, an attempt to rig the game by blocking whole groups of Americans from the polls. In what appears to be a strong cycle for their party, Democrats should take what happened in Wisconsin as a siren for action. Restoring democracy and protecting it from these attacks should be at the center of the party’s agenda.

The burden of voter ID laws falls hardest on the marginal members of society, who are predominately nonwhite, elderly, or both. In Wisconsin, 9 percent of registered voters (300,000 people) lack government-issued identification and fall disproportionately under those groups. And while Wisconsin provides voter ID at no cost through its Department of Motor Vehicles, the dirty secret is that this is a difficult and cumbersome process given the extremely limited hours for DMV offices. (Just 31 of Wisconsin’s 92 DMVs hold normal business hours and most are open just twice a week.) And worse, as Berman notes, Republican legislators in the state made no provision for voter education. They also shut down the state board that monitors elections.

Wisconsin isn’t the only place where voting has been hampered by voter identification laws. In Arizona, a similarly strict law—compounded by a Republican-led drive to close voting precincts in heavily populated areas—brought long waits for people who wanted to cast a ballot. As many as 20,000 Americans weren’t able to vote, many of them Latino.

Three years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with a history of discrimination to get the federal government’s permission before making any changes in how they run elections. Since then, Republican legislatures like those in Wisconsin and Arizona have adopted draconian identification laws that stand as meaningful barriers to the right to vote. They act as de facto poll taxes, forcing voters to spend time and money in order to exercise their constitutional rights. Thirty-three states will require voters to show identification at the polls this November, and the likely outcome will be long lines and complications for countless voters.

Beyond the sort of educational measures that Wisconsin didn’t bother with, it’s too late to do anything this year about the spread of voter ID and other barriers. But this should be a wake-up call for Democrats. Unless there’s pushback, these restrictions will become part of the firmament of our elections, effectively disenfranchising those on the margins of American life. For Democrats now and in the future, reversing those laws—and enhancing voter access—has to be a priority. On the national level, both Clinton and Bernie Sanders should tout their plans to restore the Voting Rights Act and build more voter protections. Below that, prospective Democratic governors and state lawmakers should place voter access at the top of their agendas, a first item for incoming administrations. Everything, from automatic registration and mail-in balloting to ending felon disenfranchisement, should be on the table.

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If Democrats believe that they benefit from more voters and larger electorates, then they would do well to mimic the Republican approach, but in reverse: Use their power to tilt the playing field toward more access, more participation, and more democracy.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, April 6, 2016

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Discrimination, Voter ID | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Wisconsin’s ‘War On Voting’ Leads To Real Consequences”: Thousands Of Wisconsin Voters Facing Disenfranchisement

Wisconsin’s April 5 primary is likely to be important for all kinds of electoral reasons, but the day will also be significant in terms of the voting process itself: it will be the first big test of the state’s ridiculous voter-ID law. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to create the system in 2011, responding to a “voter fraud” scourge that did not exist, but following a series of legal disputes, this will be the first presidential election year in which the system is fully implemented.

For supporters of voting rights, this isn’t good news. A report from Pro Publica noted this week, for example, that the law requires Wisconsin’s Republican-run state government to run “a public-service campaign ‘in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election’ to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable.”

To date, it appears that public-service campaign has not happened and no money has been a set aside to educate the public. With literally hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters facing disenfranchisement, it’s a major problem officials are not even trying to fix.

It’s also not the only step backwards Wisconsin has taken on voting rights. MSNBC’s Zack Roth reported today:

A bill signed into law last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could make it much harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the pivotal swing state just as the 2016 election approaches.

The Republican-backed measure allows Wisconsinites to register to vote online. But voting rights advocates say that step forward is massively outweighed by a provision in the bill whose effect will be to make it nearly impossible to conduct the kind of community voter registration drives that disproportionately help low-income and non-white Wisconsinites to register.

No other state, including states led entirely by Republican officials, has created a registration system that dismantled community-registration drives.

Project Vote noted this week, “Local and national group … joined together to show [Wisconsin] lawmakers that the proposed online registration system would not be available to all eligible electors, disproportionately impacting students, veterans, older individuals, low-income people and people of color. We explained that it is community registration drives that often register the very people unable to use online registration.”

The GOP-led legislature wasn’t willing to change the bill. Walker, naturally, signed it.

This won’t affect the state system in advance of the April 5 primary, but as Zack Roth’s report noted, the new policy “could well curtail voter registration ahead of the general election.”

In recent years, Wisconsin has been a competitive, battleground state for presidential candidates – President Obama won the state twice, even after Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan was added to the Republicans’ 2012 ticket – and will likely receive a lot of interest this fall, too. What’s more, the state is home to a key U.S. Senate race – incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) is facing a rematch against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) – and the outcome will help determine which party controls the chamber in the next Congress.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2016

March 26, 2016 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter ID, Voter Registration, Voter Suppression, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Maintaining Its Sad Tradition Of Disenfranchisement”: Texas Lawmakers Are Busy Making It Harder To Vote

Another legislative session, another unfortunate attempt by Texas politicians to make it harder to vote. While other states move their registration systems into the 21st century — by putting the onus on the government to add eligible voters to the rolls, or letting citizens sign up online, for example — Texas maintains its sad tradition of disenfranchisement.

One measure (HB 1096) that would make it more difficult for voters to confirm their residency recently cleared the House. Another bill approved by the Senate (SB 1934) would eliminate nonexpiring photo identification cards for the state’s senior citizens. Because unexpired photo IDs or IDs that have been expired no more than 60 days are required to vote, this change would make it even harder for Texas seniors to get their ballots counted. Do we really need to wonder why lawmakers are making these changes?

While some legislators have introduced bills this session to help voters, these bills have largely gone nowhere. A bill that would issue no-charge birth certificate copies to some Texans under a limited set of circumstances passed the Senate, but the law, if passed, would help only a fraction of disenfranchised voters. This is not enough. Texas deserves a Legislature that will take action to ensure that the voices of all eligible voters are heard, rather than putting up more obstacles to the ballot box.

In 2011, Texas enacted the nation’s strictest voter ID law. It permits use of limited types of photo IDs to vote, and the ID must be current or recently expired. To obtain nearly every form of acceptable ID, an original or certified copy of a voter’s birth certificate is required. Hundreds of thousands of registered Texas voters lack the ID or supporting documents needed to meet these stringent requirements.

While Texans of all ages have felt the negative impact of the photo ID law, the burden on the state’s seniors is particularly acute. Older voters are less likely to have a current driver’s license — because many no longer drive — and are more likely to find it difficult or downright impossible to obtain a birth certificate. Many live in long-term care facilities and, because of health or liability issues, are unable to travel to renew their IDs, or are understandably overwhelmed by the required paperwork. Cutting nonexpiring state IDs for seniors would only exacerbate these burdens.

So far, two federal courts have stepped in to block the Texas ID law because it disenfranchises Latino and African-American voters. Last year, a federal court in Texas found the law not only had the effect of discriminating against minority voters but also that the Legislature passed the law with the intent of making it harder for voters of color to cast a ballot. The case is now before a federal appellate court. During oral arguments, a Republican-appointed judge pointedly asked Texas’ attorney why the Legislature hasn’t taken the opportunity to fix the problems with the photo ID law. The lawyer had no response when the judge asked why it should fall to the court to fix the law, when legislators have had years to do so.

The numbers show that some legislators have had ample opportunity to help voters. This legislative session alone, there have been at least 17 bills introduced to ameliorate the strict voter ID law. Bills that would allow expired government-issued IDs to be accepted for voting and others that would expand the list of acceptable IDs have not gotten so much as a public hearing. The Legislature has instead chosen to expend more energy on changes that would make voting even more difficult.

Bills to soften the draconian photo ID law are not the only voter-friendly measures Texas legislators have left on the table. At least 28 other bills have been introduced that would expand access to the ballot. These efforts range from proposals that would make it easier for voters to update their registration to legislation that would increase language access for voters whose primary language is not English. Nearly all of these bills have received no legislative attention.

While a proposal that would have allowed Texans to register through a secure online portal did manage to at least get a public hearing, legislators expressed skepticism that the modernizing reform — which has been successfully adopted by nearly 30 other states — could be done in Texas. They promptly killed the bill.

Given Texas’ sordid history of manipulating the right to vote, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Legislature is making voting harder. Texans should demand better.

 

By: Jennifer L. Clark and Gary Bledsoe, Cross-Posted from The Dallas Morning News; Brennan Center for Justice, May 19, 2015

 

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Modern-Day Voter Suppression”: A Poll Tax By Another Name Is Still A Poll Tax

For supporters of voting restrictions, opposition to voter-ID laws seems practically inexplicable. After all, they argue, having an ID is a common part of modern American life, and if these laws prevent fraud, the requirements deserve broad support.

We know, of course, that the fraud argument is baseless, but it’s often overlooked how difficult getting proper identification – never before necessary to cast a ballot in the United States – can be in practice. To that end the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU published a report this week on “stories from actual voters” in Texas who are facing disenfranchisement for no good reason. Emily Badger flagged one especially striking example:

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver’s license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.

He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver’s license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas’s new photo ID requirement.

One person was prohibited from voting because his driver’s license  ”was taken away from him in connection with a DUI.” Another Texan discovered he’d need a replacement birth certificate and a new ID, which required a series of procedural steps and a $30 fee he’d struggle to afford.

To hear opponents of voting rights tell it, voter-ID laws sound simple and easy. The practical reality is obviously far different – and in all likelihood, the laws’ proponents know this and don’t care. Indeed, a federal district court recently concluded that Texas’ law was designed specifically to discriminate against minority communities.

Under the circumstances, it seems hard to deny that we’re talking about a policy of modern-day poll taxes.

Jonathan Chait’s recent take of the larger dynamic summarized the issue perfectly.

During the Obama era … [Republicans] have passed laws requiring photo identification, forcing prospective voters who lack them, who are disproportionately Democratic and nonwhite, to undergo the extra time and inconvenience of acquiring them. They have likewise fought to reduce early voting hours on nights and weekends, thereby making it harder for wage workers and single parents, who have less flexibility at work and in their child care, to cast a ballot.

The effect of all these policies is identical to a poll tax…. It imposes burdens of money and time upon prospective voters, which are more easily borne by the rich and middle-class, thereby weeding out less motivated voters. Voting restrictions are usually enacted by Republican-controlled states with close political balances, where the small reduction in turnout it produces among Democratic-leaning constituencies is potentially decisive in a close race.

The simple logic of supply and demand suggests that if you raise the cost of a good, the demand for it will fall. Requiring voters to spend time and money obtaining new papers and cards as a condition of voting will axiomatically lead to fewer of them voting.

There is ample reason to believe that for Republican opponents of voting rights, this is a feature, not a bug. For all the rhetoric about “voting integrity” and imaginary claims about the scourge of systemic “voter fraud,” the underlying goal is to discourage participation, and in the process, improve GOP candidates’ odds of success.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 30, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Poll Tax, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Confused Voter Or Disenfranchised Voter?”: In Texas, You Can Vote With A Concealed Handgun License—But Not A Student ID

Texans casting a ballot on Monday, when early voting begins, will need to show one of seven forms of photo ID. A concealed handgun license is okay, but a student ID isn’t. The Supreme Court on Saturday allowed Texas to go forward with this controversial voter ID law. A federal judge had previously struck down the law, arguing that it could disenfranchise 600,000 voters or a full 4.5 percent of registered voters, many of them black and Latino.

Critics say voter ID laws, especially the one in Texas, amount to voter suppression, because it can be both difficult and costly to get the required identification. In a powerfully worded dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen, wrote, “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

Saturday’s decision marks the third time this season that the Supreme Court has allowed a controversial voter law to take effect. The other two were about measures in Ohio and North Carolina. This may not seem surprising, given that the Roberts Court has struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, but the rationale for this (and the other decisions) may have been more about timing than substance—in particular, observing the precedent of Purcell v. Gonzalez, in which the Court has blocked last-minute changes in voting laws in order to avoid confusion. Still, what’s worse? A confused voter or a disenfranchised one? The latter, Ian Millhiser argued at ThinkProgress: “If a confused voter brings an ID to the polls that they do not need to have, they will still get to cast a ballot. But if the same voter mistakenly forgets their ID (or fails to obtain one) because they were confused and believed that their state’s voter ID law was not in effect, then they will be disenfranchised.”

Actual voter fraud, which is the problem that Republican legislation supposedly addresses, is difficult to find. Ginsburg noted that there were “only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction” in Texas in almost a decade. The consequences of voter ID laws, on the other hand, are much easier to track. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, existing ID requirements reduced turnout in some states during the last presidential election, particularly among young and black voters. Now, imagine the impact is even larger, because it is spread over the 33 states that now require some form of photo ID to vote. The same report found that the costs of acquiring the needed ID ranged between $14.50 to $58.50 for 17 of the states.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, October 20, 2014

October 22, 2014 Posted by | Texas, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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