Saturday, May 28, 2016

Two thoughts on the federal Voter ID case

Expanding access to the voting booth in larger cities doesn't hurt the suburbs, as some claim it does

A federal court is considering the changes made to Wisconsin’s voting laws, including how voter ID and early voting restrictions have negatively impacted citizens in the state.

I read with great intrigue a series of articles that detailed these problems, but I want to offer my own two thoughts on a piece I read in the Cap Times that detailed the Walker administration’s defense of these changes.

First, the state’s lawyers argued that the number of people affected by restrictions are so minuscule that they don’t warrant any serious attention:
Attorneys for the state argue the plaintiffs are using anecdotal, "one-in-a-million" cases as an argument to strike down the laws.
This is a disingenuous statement for many reasons. There are approximately 3.5 million registered voters in the state. That there are six litigants in the case alone disproves mathematically that this is a problem for just “one-in-a-million.” But that’s even before counting the numerous cases of problems for voters that AREN’T part of the lawsuit. The fact is, several people had problems voting under the new rules, many of them well-documented, not just a small number.

It’s also disingenuous because it runs counter to an argument that Gov. Scott Walker initially made in support of the voter ID law. “It doesn’t matter if there’s one, 100 or 1,000,” Walker said when defending his push for the law.

Yet the same argument could be made for implementing aspects of these new voter restrictions. It doesn’t matter if it’s one voter or 1,000. What matters is that, if someone is impacted negatively by these laws, it’s within their rights to see them remedied to allow them the ability to access the ballot box.

The previous argument by the governor is being ignored by the state’s attorney’s today. If it’s only a few voters, “hey, no big deal,” they insist. It’s a radical departure from what they argued previously.

The second thought I wanted to offer is that those who testified on behalf of the state had contradictory statements in their depositions when it came to how positive they felt about the new rules vs. allowing greater access in larger cities.

Elections clerks had said that with the changes were fine, stating that there weren’t any problems from what they could tell:
A series of changes to Wisconsin election laws including a voter ID requirement hasn't negatively affected voting in suburban communities near Milwaukee, city and county clerks testified in federal court Tuesday.

"From the start, we have had virtually no problems at all," said Waukesha County clerk Kathleen Novack.
But as for allowing municipalities to be open longer hours, if desired? That’s where the REAL harm is, according to these clerks:
Novack said she believes eliminating weekend voting "level(s) the playing field" between large urban areas and smaller suburban and rural communities that lack the resources to staff weekend hours.

"If there’s an office open 30 days versus an office that’s only open 10 work days, there are obviously voters that have a lot more access than someone else," Novack said. "There has to come a point where it’s just giving over-access … to particular parts of the state."
These clerks who are “pro-limits” on voting access are trying to have it both ways. They’re saying that limiting times to vote doesn’t impede their constituents’ abilities to cast a ballot. Yet it would somehow become unfair if other, larger municipalities had longer hours available to vote.

How can that be? If there are “no problems” with the new voting rules, including getting voters to the ballot in their own communities, then any additional access to the ballot elsewhere creates no harm toward these suburban areas. If everything is fine in one area, changing the rules to give added benefits elsewhere doesn’t make things any less fine.

What works for Milwaukee might not work for Cedarburg -- longer hours might cost more, or create confusion among suburban residents, as clerks in these areas have argued. But the opposite can also be true: what works for Cedarburg might not work for Milwaukee.

Having a shorter time to access the voting booth may work out just fine for Cedarburg residents, among whom only 1.7 percent of families live in poverty. But in Milwaukee, where the poverty rate is ten times as high, making time to get to the ballot can pose a challenge for many. Limiting hours or having just one early voting location can diminish turnout in significant ways, a problem these smaller communities don’t have to deal with as much.

I’m unsure how this lawsuit will turn out. What I am certain of, though, is that those saying greater access to the polls acts as impediments to suburban voters’ rights are full of hogwash. Voter ID laws, too, have created burdens for voters that aren’t necessary to protect people’s votes.

1 comment:

  1. Having a level playing field of the same hours open for each county ie. Milwaukee County 956023 residents, Wood County 73959 residents. Ashland County 16016 residents makes the same sense that a basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and the East High Purgolders would be on a level fair playing field. The Republican party is asking us to to dismiss the differences. Common sense tells us something else.