March 11, 2013

Equality of Inconvenience

Rep. Duey Stroebel and the Wisconsin GOP's Latest Anti-Voter Initiative

Voting is our right and our civic duty. Voting gives us a say in the direction of our community, and elections are the one time everyone – young or old, rich or poor – is equal. Recognizing the importance of voting to our democracy, the Wisconsin Constitution explicitly provides for a state right to vote and prohibits all but narrowly drawn, limited purpose laws to regulate the exercise of the franchise. It does not take kindly to efforts that needlessly restrict the right to vote.

In recent years however, many state Republican politicians have engaged in actions that contravene not only the spirit, but also the letter, of the state constitution.

Gerrymandering state legislative districts, imposing a photo ID requirement making it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of legal voters to vote, proposing the elimination of same day voter registration, advocating for poll list purges that would create chaos and long lines on election day, and even floating trial balloons on changing the allocation of electoral college votes to gain partisan advantage – all from Republicans in the last two years.

The latest comes from Republican Representative Duey Stroebel with his proposal to make it more equally inconvenient to vote wherever you live in Wisconsin. Under Stroebel’s plan, clerks in places like Madison and Milwaukee would be all but prohibited from offering “early voting” on weekends and later in the evening to help voters vote as conveniently as possible.

Wisconsin State Journal columnist Chris Rickert, jumps into the fray with Pollyanna-ish excuse making at best, or at worst, a flawed attempt to manufacture a false equivalency and ascribe selfish partisan motivations to both efforts to restrict the right to vote and efforts to expand the franchise.

When called to account for his column, Rickert tragi-comically ascribes nefarious, partisan motivations to efforts to encourage more electoral participation writing, “Dems look to lower barriers to voting b/c they know their voters are more likely to be dissuaded by barriers”.

In a recent study by the non-partisan Pew Foundation, Wisconsin was ranked as one of the best states in the nation for voting, in large part because of laws that expand, not restrict, opportunities for people to cast their votes as conveniently as possible. What reason other than partisan political self-interest is there then in undoing the pro-voting laws that make this possible?

There is no gray area here. Making voting equally inconvenient wherever you live does not protect the integrity of our elections or advance the cause of democracy. Characterizing opposition legislation that would do so as some sort of act of partisanship equal to those pushing for the law is wrong.

If you agree that our democracy is best served by legal voters voting, then bills like the early voting restriction proposal that work against that, and the lawmakers like Rep. Stroebel that propose them, ought to be rebuked, not excused.

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Scot Ross served as Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute from 2007 to 2019.

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