MADISON, Wis. — Opponents of proposed legislation to restrict voter access to the polls, gathered at the State Capitol Wednesday to condemn so-called Voter ID legislation as a costly, unnecessary plan, which could lead to the disenfranchisement of untold tens of thousands of eligible voters in every corner of Wisconsin.
Leon Burzynski, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans representing 103,000 state retirees, said he was concerned seniors would face particular challenges in obtaining state-issued photo IDs require under the bill, and that changing the rules for people who have voted at their polling places for decades was ill-advised.
“Wisconsin has a great tradition of voter accessibility for eligible Wisconsin citizens with so few cases of voters voting inappropriately,” said Leon Burzynski, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. “Yet, some state legislators have introduced Senate Bill 6, requiring voters to have a state issued photo ID. Almost 180,000 Wisconsin retirees who do not have state issued photo IDs could be affected by this bill.”
Sheila Cochran, Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and an election protection expert, said the legislation threatens hard-fought gains made to protect the right to vote in Wisconsin.
“It is unfortunate that the new leadership in Madison wants to limit participation in the right that we all hold so dear as our vote,” said Cochran. “Why our state legislature wants to turn back the clock on being progressive in wanting to make it easier for every eligible voter to vote ought to be called to question. We have worked for years to encourage and involve the electorate, not put up every obstacle possible to keep them from wanting to exercise their right to vote; it’s time we fight for the 15th Amendment, too.”
According to a study done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, there is a sizable portion of the voting age population without the necessary state-issued photographic identification, including 55 percent of African American men, 49 percent of African American women, 46 percent of Hispanic men and 59 percent of Hispanic women. The study also found 78 percent of African American men age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24 were without licenses. [Driver License Status of the Voting Age Population in Wisconsin, 6/05]
“It is clear that the likely effect of the bill will be to suppress the vote of certain individuals, namely African Americans and other people of color, low-income persons, disabled individuals, non-English speaking minorities and students,” said James Hall, President, NAACP-Milwaukee Branch. “Many persons in the aforementioned categories do not currently have Wisconsin driver’s licenses, Wisconsin identification cards or military identification cards. To require such as a pre-requisite to voting places an onerous and costly burden on individuals, many of whom are already operating at the margins of society.”
Analiese Eicher, who represents 13,000 students as the District 5 Supervisor on the Dane County Board, said she was concerned the voting participation by students would be negatively impacted by the legislation.
“This bill puts significant obstacles in the way for students and young people in every corner of the state,” said Eicher. “Students and young adults must be able to have a voice in our democracy.”
While proponents of the Voter ID bill offer fictitious claims about widespread voter irregularity, a two-year investigation by Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen has found as few as a dozen potentially improper votes out of nearly 3 million cast in 2008. Former Wisconsin U.S. Attorney under George W. Bush, Steve Biskupic, concluded after a similar investigation there was no widespread voter fraud. The majority of charges in all of these cases involved felons who were technically ineligible to vote.
In addition, the use of Voter ID would necessitate a huge increase in budget costs for expansion of the number of Department of Motor Vehicles open hours, which would not create private sector jobs, and increase the state’s $3.3 billion budget deficit. An analysis of the DMV availability of Indiana, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that state’s version of Voter ID, and Wisconsin showed a dramatic lack of availability in Wisconsin, including:
- Twenty-six percent of Wisconsin’s 91 DMVs are open one day a month or less, while none of Indiana’s are open less than 100 days a year and nearly all are open over 250 days a year.
- Wisconsin has only one DMV with weekend hours, while Indiana has 124 offices with weekend hours.
- Three Wisconsin counties have no DMVs, no Indiana county is without a DMV.
- Over half of Wisconsin’s 91 DMVs are open on a part-time basis, while Indiana provides full-time DMVs in every county.
“Voter ID is a budget-busting, solution to a problem which does not exist, and doesn’t create one private sector job,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “If the new conservative majority wants to have this Voter ID disenfranchisement scheme, they need to tell us how they will find the tens of millions of dollars to pay for it.”
The need to expand the numbers and operational hours of Wisconsin DMVs to provide appropriate access could increase the $70 million biennial Wisconsin DMV budget by as much as 50 percent – on top of the current $5 million price tag to provide free identifications.
Wisconsin and Indiana have similar voting age populations (4.35 million vs. 4.8 million), but Wisconsin is 50 percent larger geographically than Indiana (54,314 sq. miles vs. 35,870 sq. miles). Indiana not only provides its residents 50 percent more DMV offices than Wisconsin does (140 to 91), but also nearly three times the total hours these facilities are open.
One Wisconsin Now has produced several maps contrasting the access to DMVs in Wisconsin to those in Indiana.