One of the country’s toughest voter ID laws takes affect today as voters head to the polls in the Wisconsin Democratic and Republican primaries. Reports suggest that as many as 300,000 registered voters may not be able to cast a ballot because of the restrictive new laws.
Proponents of the voter restrictions have argued that they will prevent voter fraud; however, the reality could be much more bleak as 9% of the electorate could be disenfranchised if unable to produce a government-issued ID.
Critics have pointed out how voter ID laws are biased against the poor, elderly, and people of color.
As Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America told Democracy Now!, blacks and hispanics are “two to three times as likely as whites not to have this voter ID.”
in terms of who is most impacted by the law. In 2012, African-American voters in Wisconsin were 1.7 times as likely as white voters to lack a driver’s license or state photo ID, and Latino voters were 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack such ID. More than 60 percent of people who’ve requested a photo ID for voting from the DMV have been black or Hispanic, according to legal filings. There is a clear racial disparity
“Many of these people do not have birth certificates or cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars to get their birth certificate,” Berman said. “I talk about a story of an 89-year-old woman who’s been voting since 1948, and she would have to pay $200 to change the misspelled maiden name on her birth certificate. That’s what we used to call a poll tax.”
The 89-year-old woman, Ruthelle Frank has been serving on the Village Board of her hometown of Brokaw, Wisconsin since 1996, yet still cannot obtain a government ID. She is the lead plaintiff in the challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law.
“No one should have to pay a fee to be able to vote,” Frank said.
Students are another group hard hit by laws such as Wisconsin’s. Student IDs are not valid, which places a burden on students to obtain IDs from DMVs. Berman notes that in Wisconsin, only 31 out of 92 DMVs are open five days a week, making it particularly difficult for students to access them.
The Wisconsin voter ID laws were passed in 2011 in a trend that inspired half of the states in the U.S. to introduce voting restrictions.
“When Scott Walker and the Republicans took power,” Berman said, “they were determined to keep power. And this is how they’ve tried to keep power, by making it harder for people to vote.
In addition to the voter ID law passed by Walker, the state legislature took other measures to decrease voter turnout, including a ban on early voting on nights and weekends. Walker even attempted to to eliminate same-day voter registration in the state before he backed down after realizing his own son had voted in the last election using same-day registration.
Further, the state of Wisconsin has changed its residency requirements, “enacted a law that encourages invasive poll monitoring, eliminated straight-ticket voting on the official ballot, eliminated for most (but not all) citizens the option to obtain an absentee ballot by fax or email, and imposed a voter identification (“voter ID”) requirement.” All since 2011.
To exacerbate matters, Wisconsin has allocated no money to educate votersabout the new law, as required by the legislation, and Republicans have dismantled the non-partisan Government Accountability Board in charge of supervising elections.
While other voter ID laws have caused massive delays to voting in the North Carolina primaries and the Arizona primaries, where lines were up to five hours long, Wisconsin may be the next in a string of states who have failed democracy through voter restrictions.