Last week, the Wisconsin Assembly passed legislation that would end early weekend voting and severely restrict early voting hours if signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker. While Republican proponents of this legislation claim it only helps ensure equality because rural clerks don’t have adequate resources or staff to have weekend voting, it is clear what the legislation’s real purpose is: to further restrict the right to vote in order to enhance their political party’s electoral chances in the short-term. This legislation not only chips away at the right to vote but also fails to solve the Republican Party’s long-term electoral problems resulting from changing demographics. Walker should veto this shortsighted and undemocratic measure.
It is no real secret that the Republican Party is trying to restrict the people’s right to vote. In the 2011 and 2012 state legislative sessions, lawmakers in 37 states proposed 62 voter identification laws. These proposed measures resulted from the Republican surge during the 2010 elections. Wisconsin enacted a voter ID law in 2012, but was prevented from implementing the law when multiple courts ruled it violated the Wisconsin Constitution. Of course, conservative and Republican voter ID law proponents say the purpose of these laws is to protect the integrity of the electoral process and prevent voter fraud.
First, voter ID laws do not prevent voter fraud because, in the United States, there is practically no in-person voter fraud. According to a Department of Justice study, between 2002 and 2005 there were only 26 total voter fraud convictions or guilty pleas out of 197 million votes cast in federal elections. This amounts to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of votes cast being fraudulent. Second, it is particularly ironic that the political party which argues voter ID laws are necessary to protect the integrity of the electoral process is the same exact political party that thinks the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision further preserves the integrity of the electoral process.
Before the Republican-controlled state legislature enacted a voter ID law, it first made sure to gerrymander legislative districts in the party’s favor. This explains why the state Assembly is overwhelmingly dominated by Republican legislators, even though Wisconsin is a swing state. But some in the Wisconsin Legislature have attempted to enact reforms that would prevent gerrymandering and its undemocratic effects from occurring. Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, tried to enact legislation last fall that would have required the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau to create new electoral districts instead of the partisan state Legislature, but this bill ended up in legislative limbo.
In this context, the state Legislature recently passed legislation that would restrict early voting hours and completely eliminate early voting on the weekends. This isn’t the first time the Legislature has restricted early voting since 2010, either. Given this context, it becomes evident that the Republican-controlled state Legislature is not concerned with equality between rural and city clerks — this purported concern serves as mere pretext. Instead, the Republican Party is trying to increase its short-term electoral chances by restricting people’s right to vote in urban areas, areas that usually do not tend to vote Republican. Although this legislation may help Republican politicians in the short-term, it fails to address the Republican’s long-term structural and voter demographic problems. If the party wishes to remain a viable political party in the future, it is going to have become more moderate like its 1950s counterpart.
The Republican Party is facing a long-term voter demographic problem. Even so, the party has tried to remain a viable political party in the interim by enacting laws which restrict the right to vote. The legislation passed by the Wisconsin Legislature is such a law, which would restrict people who live in urban areas’ right to vote. Hopefully Walker has the moral courage to veto this counterproductive and antidemocratic measure.
Aaron Loudenslager ([email protected]) is a second-year law student.