I suspect, deep down, most Wisconsinites knew that at some point a judicial ruling would start to roll back the partisan attacks on the freedom of casting a ballot in our state. In our minds we knew the nationwide attempt by Republicans to stymie the power of certain demographics to cast a vote would be undone. Nothing ever happens as fast as desired so we waited and watched as more and more states wrangled with legal filings over all sorts of laws that curtailed voters’ rights.
Then came Friday and strong rulings from federal judges were handed down first in North Carolina and then here in the Badger State which sternly slapped back at the idea that limiting the capability of minority voters was in any way acceptable from a constitutional perspective. ( I was deeply heartened with the North Carolina decision as it came from a federal appellate court.)
Judge James Peterson of Federal District Court emphatically ruled in a 119-page decision that parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law are out-and-out unconstitutional. He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available to voters and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the ballot box.
His ruling also included the removal of other onerous elements that Republicans had placed into law which were designed solely to limit voting of Democrats and minorities. He ruled against lengthening the residency requirement for newly registered voters, ruled against banning distributing absentee ballots by fax or email, ruled against the sinister attempt by partisans to restrict the locations and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.
It was most clear after Friday that the plan by Republicans to suppress votes had met a most stern rebuke from the judiciary.
Peterson hit on a point that has rankled me from the start about how Wisconsin ever passed such an awful and needless piece of legislation.
The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence. The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections.
Over and over I have simply asked Republicans who support the harsh voter ID law to back up the need for such action in our state with proof of voter fraud. They simply can not do it as data shows that nothing nefarious was happening at the polling places in Wisconsin.
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 that had been decided by all the wild claims. The only drama that takes place regarding elections are when Republicans breathlessly try to gin up their base with false-hoods about voter fraud.
That is why a federal judge needed to intervene in a such a dramatic way this past week.
I have also harped on the fact that no Republican was able to stand up in the legislature and produce any court cases, judge’s rulings, or names of those who cast fraudulent votes. If there was such rampant voting abuses why did the attorney general not investigate them?
So with all that as background it was especially galling to read the response from Governor Walker to the federal ruling.
We are disappointed in the decision by an activist federal judge. Voters support common-sense measures to protect the integrity of our votes. Voting should be easy, but cheating should be hard.
It is always interesting to note that judges are only activist when ruling against the wishes of conservatives. But most troubling in his statement is the continued inference that our electoral process in the state is being abused by voter fraud. Walker is playing to the lowest common denominator and not telling the truth.
Voter ID remains one of the most shameful actions taken by Wisconsin Republicans. When given the chance to back away from it they double down on their own falsehoods.