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Wisconsin Voting Rights Need To Be At Top Of Election Agenda In 2014

November 7, 2013


I suspect many people, including those who stop by this blog to read political commentary, were drawn to the Election Night coverage this week as New Jersey and Virginia elected governors. There was not only an excitement produced by the political drama that played out after a long campaign, but the knowledge that elections matter. They carry consequences that will impact people in a wide variety of ways.  No matter what side of the political aisle we sit on there is no missing the point that come Election Day the most important thing is to get to the polls.

My earliest memories about elections are not for any particular candidate or party.  Instead they are of Dad telling his family the importance of making sure we always went to the polls, along with the reason we have the right to select our leaders.  He always took voting as most important.  He was not a civics teacher, but came home from World War II with the knowledge that our freedom came with responsibilities.  It is a lesson I carry very close to me.

It is with this background that I am continually stunned when stories abound about not only the attempts to curtail voting, but the actual accounts that underscore what happens when such policies are enacted.

As the federal trial continues in Milwaukee concerning Wisconsin’s ID voting law comes the story of Carl Ellis.  At age 18 Ellis joined the Army, was honorably discharged, and then later in life faced hurdles upon hurdles to get the Republican-passed requirement to vote.

He said he didn’t have a driver’s license, attributing that to his alcoholism, and that while he had a Social Security number he didn’t have a Social Security card. He also didn’t have his Illinois birth certificate and couldn’t afford to pay $15 for a replacement.

Ellis said that when he tried to get a state ID from a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Milwaukee, he hoped his military ID and Social Security number would suffice. Instead, he was told he needed to get a birth certificate or driver’s license. Because of his alcoholism, he didn’t want to make the effort.

“It was easier for me to give up than keep trying,” he said.

My Dad would be aghast.  We all should be.

Data shows that nothing nefarious was happening at the polling places in Wisconsin that nessecatied the voter ID law.  NOTHING.  There were no streams of voters pretending to be someone else, or voting twice.  There were no throngs of folks using fake aliases to cast a ballot, and there were no elections results that were tainted from all the wild claims.

The only reason Republicans want to see voting laws changed, and voters disenfranchised comes as a direct result of voting trends that do not favor their party.  When that happens, in Wisconsin and other states, comes an all-out effort to curtail and discourage certain voters from casting a ballot.

While there will be many issues to debate and fight over in the 2014 Wisconsin elections I would argue none will be more important than the one that cuts to the very core of our democracy.  At the top of the agenda needs to be the right to vote without needing to jump a series of hoops and procedures that are only aimed at lowering turnout among certain demographic groups.  That is inexcusable.

Candidates for legislative offices, along with the executive branch need to speak clearly to the need of ensuring that voting remains unfettered of attempts to lower turnout.  Enshrining voter suppression into law is not the way Wisconsin’s proud history should be written.  We have the means to roll back the wrong, and again prove that this state can lead the nation.

Let 2014 be the beginning of that movement.

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