With the state judicial primary elections coming Feb. 20 and 2018 midterms just around the corner, it’s imperative we as a nation end voter suppression, and make automatic voter registration an absolute priority. In the last few years, we’ve seen a general pushback against voter ID laws, or dirty legislation barring people from voting without a valid state-issued ID. The goal: repressing people of color, low-income populations and students from voting, demographics who have the most strenuous time obtaining ID.
Many injurious consequences of voter ID laws — more simply, voter suppression — are felt and quantifiably proven here in Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin professor political science Kenneth Mayer embarked on a study to discover these damming significances. The results were alarming: In the 2016 election, some 20,000 people in Dane and Milwaukee County were barred to vote due to their lack of an ID, and Wisconsin turnout for the general election for eligible voters tanked to a dismal 69 percent.
Both of these counties are historically deep blue areas with the power to swing the color of the state. Incidentally, they are also two of the counties with the highest concentrations of people of color. This connection can be statistically proven: in Mayer’s study, in these two counties, people of color were three times more likely to indicate they were deterred from voting due to their lack of ID compared to their white counterparts.
It’s not hard to see to the reprehensible nature of voter suppression. For these demographics, there are many societal and institutional barriers preventing them from obtaining ID. Think of the privatization of drivers-ed in the past decade: in Madison, when I was 15, I enrolled at Four Lakes Driving School — where everyone was white and fairly affluent. My parents paid about $500 for classroom sessions and driving lessons alone, not to mention other fees for physically obtaining the permit or driver’s license itself.
Many families don’t have $500 laying around, disenfranchising low-income folks from obtaining a license. Even a simple identification card costs $28. It may not seem like much, but when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, $28 dollars can be the difference between food for the week and going hungry.
Voter ID laws are designed to add another hoop for the marginalized to jump through in order to partake in the basic right of voting, something blatantly racist and classist. To dismantle and shatter the suppressive grip voter ID legislative binds around its populations, it’s imperative to institute automatic voter registration for everyone when they come of age, not just those who have the luxury to obtain commodities such as an ID or driver’s license.
As of 2017, there are 11 states that have some sort of voter registration, and unsurprisingly, Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin is not one of them.
This cruelty stemming from Republican efforts to suppress votes also potentially wreaks havoc upon democracy itself. By constricting the vote, subsequently leading to historic lows in voter turnout, Republicans like Walker effectively undermine the fundamental objective of universal suffrage. Coincidentally and in perverted hypocrisy, it is also Republicans claiming to idealize democracy as the foundational cornerstone of our republic — it’s been the rationale and justification for wars, domestic policy and the source code of general pandering for years.
ASM, Vote Everywhere combat confusion over voter ID laws with new initiativesAccording to a survey from the University of Wisconsin, about 17,000 voters from the Dane County and Milwaukee County did Read…
Despite all this lusting, the actions carried out by the ostensible purveyors of democracy convey a different narrative. With the implementation of voter ID laws, Republicans prove they only support democracy when it serves their best interests, curtailing a purported central tenet into nothing more than a partisan hack-tool controlled by those in power to keep the marginalized minority, less fortunate and oppressed populations from having a say in politics.
In the battle against such deplorable measures, there’s a vital defense to protect both disregarded populations and democracy itself: increased fervency to push towards the necessary goal of implementing universal, automatic voter registration.
In some states with automatic voter registration, such as Oregon, everyone of age with a driver’s license automatically becomes registered to vote. Yet, this does little to overcome the aforementioned institutional barriers that suppress the poor and people of color. Instead, it’s imperative to push for Illinois or Rhode Island legislation which surpasses the cumbersome DMV into fresh territory allowing other state agencies to automatically register voters.
For example, requiring public schools and universities to assume the role of administers of registration. Once a student turns 18, schools should be able to automatically register students, and similarly, all incoming in-state freshmen should go through the process to register as many voters as possible. Additionally, for those who aren’t in school by 18, there should be wider opportunities for municipalities to register its citizens, such as an online database.
While it still has holes and flaws, it’s a vital step forward in ensuring we as a society allow everyone to vote, not just those who are the most fortunate to do so. Voting is a right for everyone, not a privilege — it’s not something to be hoarded by greedy and partisan conservative lawmakers for the white and affluent.
Adam Ramer ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in history and politics.