State Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, introduced legislation recently to give Milwaukee residents the ability to waive a $20 fee to obtain a copy of their birth certificate, in order to get an ID to vote with. Coggs’ move was a reaction to the new state law that requires photo IDs for voting.
The law allows for Wisconsin citizens to have the fee for obtaining a voting ID waived, but does not recognize that in order to acquire a voting ID, one must provide a birth certificate, which also requires a fee.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., hit the nail on the head in his New York Times editorial when he noted that “despite decades of progress, this year’s Republican-backed wave of voting restrictions has demonstrated that the fundamental right to vote is still subject to partisan manipulation.” Coggs similarly claimed that, without the fee waived for birth certificates, the voter ID law “just seems like it’s a poll tax.”
In fairness, one must look to the arguments in support of the voter ID law. The obvious argument for having such a law is that it would limit the ability of misguided citizens to commit voting fraud. In the 2004 Wisconsin elections, there were widespread claims of fraud that election, so an investigation was done. The allegations yielded only seven substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes. Seven votes out of almost three million is a voter fraud rate of 0.0002 percent, which is hardly legitimate enough to necessitate the passing of a voter ID law.
At least Republicans can justify their bill by saying there are instances of voter fraud in Wisconsin, arguing that it would prevent that kind of fraud from happening in the future. Oh wait — the investigation also found that “none of [the voter fraud] problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.” That renders the argument for the necessity of a voter ID law to be … completely unfounded, entirely unjustifiable and a whimsical joke. But hey, who can really take our current governor´s rhetoric seriously, anyway?
Republicans tend to focus on the law in the books, especially in instances like this, where one can simply say “hey the law says everyone needs an ID!” But Lewis notes the obvious effect — the “law in action” reality — of the law. He notes that “in reality, we know that [it] will disproportionately burden African Americans and other racial minorities, yet again. They are poll taxes by another name.”
What evidence is there that the voter ID law was aimed at disenfranchising minorities? What evidence is there that this Republican driven bill affects predominantly Democratic voting groups in the state? The evidence is that Walker decided to go the extra step to ensure that responsible, Democratic voting citizens would have an even harder time acquiring a voting ID by attempting to shut down 10 Department of Motor Vehicles offices in Democratic districts shortly after the bill was passed.
Then there’s the whole issue of how a state employee was fired for blowing the whistle on the Department of Transportation policy that recommended withholding information on how a responsible, voting citizens could get a free photo ID unless specifically asked about it. It seems Republicans are trying to monopolize the vote by disenfranchising Democratic voters.
I’m pretty moderate on the political scale. But something every citizen in this country should have a right to is voting. Voter fraud isn’t rampant in our state, and a voter ID law wouldn’t mitigate the near-non-existent level of fraud that takes place. This voter ID law is “a poll tax with a different name,” another example of “partisan manipulation,” and a Republican attempt to monopolize the vote. Milwaukee alder Ashanti Hamilton sums it up the best: “it’s disappointing for any government body to try and disenfranchise people from voting.” That’s exactly what this law is: a disappointment. We, the voters, have been let down by a Republican scheme for power.
Reginald Young (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in legal studies and Scandinavian studies.
Correction: A previous version of the article stated that Gov. Scott Walker shut down 10 Department of Motor Vehicle offices in Democratic districts. The sentence has been corrected to reflect the fact that Walker only attempted to shut down these DMVs.