MADISON, Wis. — Preserving voter rights, ensuring timely access to the polls and modernizing voter registration are critical to protecting democracy across Wisconsin was the consensus at the second annual Protect Wisconsin’s Vote Education Summit, held in the Madison Tuesday.
Hosted by the non-partisan, non-profit One Wisconsin Institute, the summit featured a broad coalition of voter rights advocates, including the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, ACLU of Wisconsin, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, the Election Protection Legal Committee and the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Among the topics examined during the evening’s discussions were early voting and voter registration modernization, strengthening and protecting absentee balloting, accessibility to the polls, ex-offender re-enfranchisement, pitfalls of voter ID and benefits of preserving Election Day registration.
“In Wisconsin, we have a tradition of clean, fair and transparent elections with high voter turnout,” said Andrea Kaminski, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Executive Director. “Efforts at reform should focus on increasing accessibility and participation. Any reforms that make voting less accessible, while attempting to fix problems that don’t exist, represent a net loss for democracy.”
Participants also emphasized the need to enforce existing voter rights laws, as well as modernize voter registration efforts to increase participation in all corners of the state. A number of voter registration laws, most which were designed in the 19th century are struggling to keep up with 21st century technology and modern elections.
“Election officials, experts and policy makers agree we deserve a modern voter registration system and that the time for reform is now,” said summit keynote speaker Adam Skaggs, Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Modernizing registration will leverage existing technologies to reduce burdens on voters, increase the accuracy and reliability of the voter rolls, reduce opportunities for fraud, and save taxpayers millions of dollars each year by increasing efficiency and dramatically reducing the costs of maintaining the voter registration system.”
Others emphasized the importance of voting and protecting communities against illegal voter suppression efforts, which have affected past elections.
“There is nothing more fundamental to democracy than the right to vote,” said Matt Brusky, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund Political Director. “Working to increase access to voting is essential to strengthening our democracy and expanding economic and social justice for all Americans.”
“In recent years millions of Americans, primarily those in minority communities, were denied their right to vote through a combination of illegal threats and intimidation, ineffective voter education, inadequately trained poll workers and voting machines that did not work,” said featured speaker and panelist Ann Jacobs, attorney with the Election Protection Legal Committee. “Our goal at Election Protection is to advocate to insure that all persons who are legally entitled to vote can do so safely, easily, and without obstruction.”
One piece of legislation now in the legislature would restore voting rights to ex-offenders who had served their time behind bars for felony crimes, but who because they remained on probation and parole, are unable to vote. Over 42,000 Wisconsinites are disenfranchised by the current law, including those who are working, paying taxes and raising families. Both voter rights advocates and law enforcement have supported the law change.
“National studies show that ex-offenders who vote re-offend at a rate of less than half the rate of those who do not vote,” said Renee Shavers Crawford, ACLU of Wisconsin Associate Director. “Voting is the act of a responsible citizen and as we reintegrate people into society, we need every tool we have to ensure our communities remain safe by encouraging responsible behavior such as casting a ballot.”
The evening also featured short films and provided attendees with information about becoming a non-partisan poll worker to assist local municipalities in administering fair and clean elections. One Wisconsin Institute also hosts a comprehensive, user-friendly website with information and resources for voters at www.ProtectWisconsinsVote.org
“The more people who vote, the more secure is our democracy,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director. “Laws which promote voter participation, such as no-excuse absentee balloting and Election Day registration must remain in place, while punitive efforts to limit voter participation like voter ID should remain off the statutes.”