Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Voter ID Law Would Disenfranchise Citizens, Not Fix Illegal Votes

The new session of the Wisconsin Legislature has barely begun and legislators are pushing a bill that will require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID every time they go to the polls. The bill (Senate Bill 6 - PDF) will have a public hearing this Wednesday, January 26.

Vote Fraud is a Myth
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin will be there to speak out against an attempt to treat all voters as potential crooks rather than as citizens in a democracy with free and fair access to cast their ballot.

Proponents of this measure exaggerate the instances of illegal votes cast in Wisconsin. Despite considerable resources spent to prosecute vote fraud in recent years, only 18 cases of substantiated illegal voting led to convictions. None of the cases would be avoided by requiring a photo ID to vote at the polls on Election Day. To the extent that a small number of felons on probation or parole who are ineligible to vote may cast ballots, this measure will not stop them from voting because they have or may get photo IDs.

For more information on the debunked allegations of voter fraud in Wisconsin, see the Brennan Center for Justice report, "The Truth About Voter Fraud."

SB 6 Will Disenfranchise Minority Voters
The ACLU of Wisconsin opposes the proposal because it would place a significant barrier to voting rights would have a discriminatory effect on minority voters. Citizens who tend not to have current or state-issued photo identification include people of color as well as the elderly, people with disabilities, those who rely on public transportation, and mobile populations such as college students. This is an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right and freedom to vote.

Even if the bill allows for individuals to obtain government-issued photo identification free of charge, the documents required for qualification for an ID often cost money and take time to obtain (see the state DMV's website on the documents generally needed to acquire an ID card and specifically those required for proof of identity). Additional barriers can be experienced by citizens who face the circular challenge of obtaining documents for their photo ID when a photo ID is required to obtain documents. When individuals, especially low-income workers and those who rely on public transportation face the costs of taking time off of work, traveling to motor vehicle departments with limited locations and hours and paying fees for certified documents to obtain a photo ID simply for the freedom to vote, the ACLU of Wisconsin pledges to act on behalf of those disenfranchised by the proposed law.

The ACLU has opposed these deeply flawed laws in other states. But the law as proposed in Wisconsin is the worst and most restrictive we've ever seen. To deny potentially thousands of voters the right to freely cast a ballot to fix a non-existent problem is unconscionable in a free society.

Other Opinions About the Proposed Law
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel issued an editorial against voter ID along with many suggestions of how the law would have to be fixed in order to avoid significant disenfranchisement. The Capitol Times took a stand against fast-tracking the bill and Dave Zwiefel said the law was a solution in search of a problem. There was also a cautious editorial from the Oshkhosh Northwestern. The League of Women Voters has issued a statement against the law. On student rights and voter ID, the Huffington Post featured this opinion from a Rock the Vote field director. And the Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert discusses the photo ID issue along with problems with the proposal to eliminate another Wisconsin voting rights institution, Election-Day registration.