Last month, I took time out of my day to go to the Red Gym and vote. The primary election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court opening was being held, and I was eager to fulfill my democratic duty.
As my Wisconsinite friends got waved through and casted their votes, I was held up. Despite having taken the time to register to vote in the state, neither my school-issued identification nor my Maryland driver’s license were accepted by officials, and I was turned away.
Veterans and out-of-state college students make up a relatively small proportion of the population. The disenfranchisement of these demographics is nevertheless abhorrent. The efforts by the state legislature to bar some of its most politically active and proud residents are repugnant and have no place in today’s society.
The voter ID laws passed in the past five years are a microcosm of an alarming trend in American politics. Since 2012, 16 states have enforced new voting restrictions on its citizens—almost exclusively in states controlled by the Republican party. These laws are designed to make it more difficult for minorities, students and other groups to vote. Not coincidentally, these demographics are traditionally more likely to vote for Democrats.
In Wisconsin, the new laws that changed the voter ID requirements attempt to do the exact same thing. They stipulate that all voters present either a state-issued ID—my Maryland driver’s license apparently was insufficient to identify me—a passport, or various other Wisconsin documents. Other rules state that IDs need to have the voter’s signature on them, and must have an expiration date less than two years away from the day they were issued—as a result, Wiscards don’t qualify as valid forms of ID. Students without “valid” identification need to obtain a separate voter ID card, as well as proof of enrollment, in order to cast a vote.
State lawmakers claim that the strict rules are to make it harder for voter fraud to occur. They would have people believe that cheating at the polls is an epidemic facing the state, besmirching the great democratic process. The Washington Post, however, puts it in perspective—there have been 31 cases of voter fraud out of the one billion ballots cast since 2000.
What the law really does is disenfranchise people—out-of-state students, elderly and minorities—who do not have Wisconsin driver’s licenses. Many of these people, students and minorities in particular, happen to be liberal. It’s no surprise that they’re the ones being targeted by the new laws.
Administration at UW, when given the option to reissue Wiscards to comply with the new laws, balked. They claimed that the process would be too costly. The decision, though cost-efficient, indirectly exacerbates the plight of students with inadequate IDs. Many students will go to the poll with an incomplete understanding of the law and be turned away; others will be dissuaded from voting at all by the various hoops they’re forced to jump through. Not every student will go out of their way to get a second ID card in order to cast a vote, yet if new Wiscards were issued, everyone would get one and everyone would retain their right to vote.
If legislators really care about fair elections, they need to make sure that every voice is heard. Very few people turned out to cast votes for the state Supreme Court vacancy: Some counties had turnout in the single digits. The fact that people who took the time out of their day to vote in a (relatively) inconsequential election were turned away is deplorable.
The day after the aforementioned election, politicians and news outlets reported “little to no issues” in enforcing the new law, trumpeting it as a success. The problem, though, is that there shouldn’t be any issues at all. Registering to vote should not and cannot be conditional. Making certain people jump through extra hoops in order to cast their votes is an antiquated and discriminatory practice.
Legend has it that State Street was built running from the Capitol to Bascom Hill so that politicians and students could have an ongoing dialogue. The street itself, obviously, continues to thrive. With the introduction of strict voter laws in Wisconsin, however, the proverbial road between the government and UW has been narrowed. We cannot allow it to be closed off altogether.
Sebastian is a freshman majoring in environmental studies. Do you have a voter ID? If not, do you feel like you can obtain one easily? Do you believe this new legislation will hinder democracy? Let us know what you think. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.