In Wisconsin, approximately half of the African-American population does not have driver’s licenses, and at least 123,000 people were found to have no form of state-issued photo ID in 2005. And 33% of Wisconsin’s DMV offices, where one theoretically could register to vote, are open less than 4 days a month. Lucky for us, though, Wisconsin is one of 9 states currently practicing same-day registration, so that despite the fact that it’s 33% likely you live by a DMV that’s almost never open, you can still register to vote on Election Day.
In the wake of the 2004 election, Indiana passed a voter ID law, citing the need to preserve electoral integrity and curb the rampant voter fraud that allegedly happens during presidential elections – despite the fact that several studies have shown this problem simply doesn’t exist in Indiana, here in Wisconsin, or on a national level at all, for that matter.
Several organizations representing historically disenfranchised groups – namely, African-Americans, senior citizens, and the working poor – challenged this law in the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that it unduly burdens a citizen’s right to vote. You’d think the Supreme Court would reject an argument made by lawmakers that this legislation is necessary to protect democracy by targeting a problem that doesn’t exist and disenfranchising thousands of people in the process.
But today, SCOTUS upheld Indiana’s voter ID law on the grounds that it works neutrally towards ameliorating a problem that virtually doesn’t exist. The racial, socioeconomic, and partisan dimensions to the effects of this law be damned. Indiana has done the right thing by protecting our constitutionally non-existent right to vote.
It’s scary to think of the legal reinforcement a Wisconsin version of this bill has now received. Such a law in Wisconsin would disenfranchise half of our state’s African-American population, at least 123,000 citizens without state-issued ID, and make it very difficult for those without driver’s licenses to vote without access to adequately functioning registration offices. A 2005 study by the University of Wisconsin found that an estimated 23 percent of persons aged 65 and over do not have a Wisconsin drivers license or a photo ID. It also found that an estimated 98,247 Wisconsin residents ages 35 through 64 do not have either a drivers license or a photo ID.
The precedent laid down today ensures the fight to preserve more open and accessible elections won’t be won in the courts – it will be won in the legislatures. We need to continue to show lawmakers that voter fraud is not a problem, and educate the public on the state of enfranchisement in Wisconsin so that we can ensure Wisconsin continues to enjoy a voter turnout rate that is 10% higher than most other states in the country.