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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

“A New Meaning Of Volunteerism”: Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants To Take Away Workers’ Weekends

Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R) is pushing to undo the state’s law that employers have to provide their employees with at least one day off a week, the Huffington Post reports.

The Huffington Post obtained an email Grothman sent to other state lawmakers on Friday in which he proposes legislation that “would allow an employee to voluntarily choose to work without one day of rest in seven.” State Rep. Mark Born (R) is sponsoring the legislation in the state Assembly.

Wisconsin is somewhat unique in having the law on its books. “Right now in Wisconsin, you’re not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week,” Grothman told The Huffington Post. But workers don’t have to get a day off every seven days, as they could work for up to 12 in a row “if the days of rest fall on the first and last days of the 2 week period,” according to the law. Grothman called the law “goofy” and called undoing it a matter of “freedom.”

While he argues that the law would ease workers’ ability to work overtime, it’s possible that employers would force their employees to work the extra time, making it less than voluntary. “It’s a very hard thing to know whether something is truly voluntary or not,” Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute Ross Eisenbrey told the Huffington Post. “If the employer puts pressure on people and lets them know they will be unhappy if workers exercise their right to have a day off, that might be enough so that no worker ever does anything but volunteer to work seven days a week.”

In fact, the power usually lies with employers and instances of them abusing labor laws are already on the rise. In 2009, two-thirds of low-income workers said they had experienced a wage law violation in the previous week alone. Wage theft, where an employer illegally withholds overtime pay or makes its employees work off the clock, robs low-wage workers of more money than is stolen from banks, gas stations and convenience stores combined. Actions filed in federal court alleging wage and hour violations increased by 400 percent between 2000 and 2011.

And the law doesn’t always come to workers’ rescue. In California, workers recovered less than half of what was taken from them from 2008 to 2011, and, worse, 83 percent of those who actually proved a case of wage theft still never got what they were owed.

American workers already put in more hours and are guaranteed less time off than most other developed peers. We work more than in any other industrialized countries. Unlike in the United States, it’s illegal in six of the 10 most competitive countries in the world to make workers put in more than 48 hours a week. The United States also lacks laws guaranteeing that workers can take time off if they or their family members are sick, will get vacation or holiday time off, or can take paid time off for the arrival of a new child. Many other developed and competitive countries, on the other hand, do guarantee these things.

Grothman would also go further and take away the national holiday for government workers on Martin Luther King, Jr., day. He was a sponsor of the country’s first preemption bill that blocked cities and local communities from enacting paid sick days legislation in Wisconsin.


By: Bryce Covert, Think Progress, January 5, 2014

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Wages, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Dog Whistle To GOP Base”: The Latest Lie In The Push For Voter ID Restrictions

To the Republican supporters of laws that would treat the poll booth like an exclusive nightclub that asks for photo ID and other qualifications before allowing entry, the answer to why anyone would oppose this is simple: They must not want to vote badly enough.

This was the logic for Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman who last week on MSNBC said, “I really don’t think they care that much about voting in the first place, right?” in response to a question about how African-American voters might be impacted by voter ID and early voting cuts.

This is not anomalous thinking among Republicans. Similar comments have been made by Republican state legislators in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In fact, they say these things so often publicly that you have to wonder if it’s some kind of dog-whistle to the more racially polarized portion of their voting base.

The idea that people of color don’t “care” about voting ignores how expensive it can be to meet the qualifications of voter ID laws to begin with. Those expenses are irrelevant only to those who can easily meet them. On Friday November 15th, a federal court trial over Wisconsin’s voter ID law concluded after two weeks of testimony from at least a dozen state residents illustrating how difficult it’s been to obtain the photo ID needed to vote. It also featured the testimony of state government officials who dismissed those residents’ burdens as easily surmountable.

The question of who’s right in that tug of war comes down to careful consideration of the racial and class contexts of the law. If you are a white male with a government job, you obviously are in tune enough with the law, and have the resources to meet it. But if you are not that … well consider the statistics:

  • 78 percent of African-American men in Wisconsin between the ages of 18 and 24 do not have a driver’s license
  • 66 percent of young African-American women in the same age range lack a driver’s license
  • 57 percent of young Latino men aged 18 to 24, and 63 percent of young Latinas lack driver’s licenses

During the Wisconsin trial, statistician Leland Beatty testified that more than 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters did not have a driver’s license or state ID card in 2012—16.2 percent of them African-American registered voters compared to just 9.5 percent of registered white voters. For Latinos, over 24 percent lacked a driver’s license or state ID card. Beatty analyzed the same data for 2013 and found the same racial disparate impact.

The burden suffered by people of color in Wisconsin under a voter ID law is not an academic exercise in statistics, though. Real Wisconsin residents testified about how hard it is to comply with the law—a law unnecessary given the state went hundreds of years without it and yet still managed to earn the top score in election performance by the Pew Research Center last year. Despite that, the expenses that come along with the voter ID law were laid bare during the November trial, which is the first litigation that has happened under the Voting Rights Act’s Section Two since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the civil rights law this summer.

Lorene Hutchins, a 93-year-old, African-American woman born in Mississippi was able to retrieve her birth certificate from her home state only after her daughter Katherine Clark helped her through the arduous process. It cost them over $2,000 in expenses and legal fees to do so.

Ray Ciszewski, a volunteer for his church’s program that helps the homeless and those recently released from prison obtain birth certificates for jobs, and lately to vote, testified that it costs on average $20 for a Wisconsin birth certificate. Roughly 23 percent of the people he’s tried to help were unable to get their birth certificates for a number of reasons, he said during the trial.

Carmen Cabrera of the Latino non-profit Centro Hispano Milwaukee testified that many of their members encountered language barriers—in particular, a limited availability of Spanish-speaking DMV clerks—when they help them get state IDs. Not to mention, there’s limited access to the DMV offices around the state since most of them are open only on weekdays and close at 4:30 p.m. Anytime voters have to take time off from work or school to haggle with DMV operators, especially those who don’t speak their language, that is a cost voters have to bare.

Attorney General Kawski called these plaintiffs’ experiences “uncommon, bizarre and one-of-a-kind exceptions”—again, only bizarre to those who are privileged enough to not have to deal with the every day struggles of people of color and low income.

I encountered this same dynamic last year while covering the Pennsylvania court trial over its voter ID law, where poor people of color had to prove that they even existed, ID or not. Over two dozen witnesses, mostly black and Latino, provided account after account about how difficult it is for them to transact with the government over ID while state officials responded on the stand by placing those life stories in doubt. That case is still unresolved, pending a judge’s ruling

More stories about the costs and burdens of Wisconsin residents who lack ID are bound to surface. The Wisconsin state supreme court this week decided to hear two other challenges to the voter ID law filed by local NAACP and League of Women Voter chapters. Other Voter ID law challenges are waiting for their day in court in North Carolina and Texas—the latter of which is a protracted court battle that rivals only Wisconsin in terms of time elapsed without resolving the voter ID controversy. Texas’s law was stopped last year in federal court under a Voting Rights Act Section 5 challenge. When the Supreme Court invalidated Section Five’s coverage formula, Texas immediately reinstated the law, which ranks at the top of the nation with Wisconsin in terms of its voter restrictions. It is headed back to federal court, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The stakes for all of these voter ID trials are not only who may or may not show up to vote in 2014 and 2016, but also whether government officials will finally recognize the true costs and burdens of being poor, black and brown in America as illustrated in these court testimonies. It’s not that they don’t care about voting; it’s that too many obstructions have been placed in their way.


By: Brentin Mock, The American Prospect, November 25, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Voter ID, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin GOP Leader Proposes Legislation To Blame Single Parents For Child Abuse And Neglect

Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman, the Assistant Majority Leader and a close ally of GOP Governor Scott Walker in the effort to destroy collective bargaining in the Badger State, is taking crazy to new levels.

Grothman has introduced a bill that would require the State of Wisconsin to officially deem single parenthood to be a “contributor” to child abuse and neglect and to put the same into statutory laws of the state.

Seriously…no kidding…really.

Here is the relevant section of the Wisconsin law that was the subject of a hearing yesterday in the Wisconsin state Senate Committee on Public Health, Human Services and Revenue. The bold lettering represents the amendments to the existing law that Senator Grothman has proposed for addition:

Section 1. 48.982 (2) (g) 2. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 2. Promote statewide educational and public awareness campaigns and materials for the purpose of developing public awareness of the problems of child abuse and neglect. In promoting those campaigns and materials, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

Section 2. 48.982 (2) (g) 4. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 4. Disseminate information about the problems of and methods of preventing child abuse and neglect to the public and to organizations concerned with those problems. In disseminating that information, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

If it strikes you as odd that the Wisconsin senate is spending the taxpayers’ money debating this sort of legislation in committee—considering that a full one-third of Wisconsin’s parents are, indeed, single parents—you need to understand a little bit more about Wisconsin state Senator Grothman.

You should know that it was Senator Grothman who informed us last year that The Left and the social welfare establishment want children born out of wedlock because they are far more likely to be dependent on the government.” This is also the same Senator Grothman who opposed a provision in the 2010 Wisconsin sex education law that would prohibit teachers from promoting bias based on sexual orientation because he believed that instructors would have an “agenda” to persuade students to become gay.

And, yes, this is the same Senator Grothman who wants to defund kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds because, argues Grothman, any academic benefits disappear by the fourth grade, and the program is used by school districts to pad their budgets to get more state aid.

Apparently, no longer content with suggesting that single parents (most of whom were not always single) are only out to bilk the government when deciding to have children, Grothman has decided that these same evil doers are more responsible for child abuse and child neglect than, say, alcoholics, people with mental health issues, married couples who engage in domestic violence, unemployment and the other causes cited as material contributors to child abuse.

I say that Grothman believes single-parenthood to be more responsible because I don’t see him proposing that these other causes be specifically included in his legislation.

To be fair, data reveals that there are more incidents of child abuse in households with only one parent than in households with two parents. But the data does not indicate that this factor is somehow more responsible for child abuse than the other factors listed above so, again, why single this factor out to include in the state’s statutes and not the others?

According to Lisa Subeck, a program manager and family advocate at Wisconsin’s Dane County Parent Council Head Start, Grothman’s bill was written to dictate personal choices rather than to help prevent child abuse. Says Subeck, “Sen. Grothman is inserting government into what should be a very personal decision.

That sounds about right.

And here I thought it was the GOP that was dedicated to keeping government out of our private lives.

My bad.


By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, The Policy Page, Forbes, March 2, 2012

March 3, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


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