Wisconsin’s laundry list of voter suppression laws challenged in court

A group of voting rights advocates, along with Hillary Clinton’s general counsel, Marc Elias, have filed a lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin, claiming that the state’s recently-passed electoral reforms are blatantly racist. While Hillary Clinton’s campaign is not officially behind the lawsuit, they said in a statement that they “are aware of it and strongly support its goal of ensuring the right to vote is not unduly burdened.”

Last month, Elias filed a similar lawsuit in Ohio, challenging similar voting restrictions on identical grounds.

Following Scott Walker’s election in 2010, Wisconsin Republicans enacted what amounted to an entire voter suppression platform. The state has passed practically every 21st Century voting restriction we thought Republicans were capable of and then some:

  • Photo ID requirement for voting
  • Reducing early voting from 30 days to 12, while eliminating it entirely on evenings and weekends
  • Require proof of residence when registering to vote
  • Eliminated the certification of statewide voter registrars, meaning that anyone who registers others to vote can only do so in the county in which they’re certified
  • Increased the residency requirement for voting from 10 days to 28 (excepting presidential elections)
  • Require that citizens who move within the state less than four weeks prior to an election vote in their old locality
  • Eliminated faxing and emailing of absentee ballots to anyone other than military or overseas voters
  • Prohibited municipal clerks from returning absentee ballots to citizens to fix mistakes on their forms
  • Required an area for poll monitors be set up between three and eight feet from the table where voters sign in
  • Eliminated straight-ticket voting for all but military or overseas voters, increasing wait times at polling locations
  • Made it harder to use a student ID as proof of residence when registering to vote

Testimony that was previously used in a district court case that briefly overturned Wisconsin’s voter ID law (it would later be reinstated by higher courts) held that roughly 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin lack photo ID, and that those citizens are disproportionately lower-income racial minorities. Photo ID laws, long lines at polling locations and voter registration restrictions have all been found to significantly reduce voter turnout, and their effects have all been found to correlate with income and race. That’s a Voting Rights Act case if there ever was one, election year or no.

Scott Walker, via Wikimedia Commons

Scott Walker, via Wikimedia Commons

Some of these restrictions at issue in the suit, like photo ID and early voting cutbacks, are familiar and have been challenged before with varying degrees of success. Others, like eliminating statewide registrars and prohibiting absentee ballot application corrections, are impressively creative ways to lower voter turnout that haven’t been challenged before. Individually, some of these restrictions may be permissible. Taken together, however, the logic is clear: Make sure fewer people register to vote; make sure fewer registered voters have access to ballots; and intimidate those who do show up with long lines and leering poll-watchers in close proximity.

In other words, eliminating straight-ticket voting isn’t absurd on it’s face, but it’s much more objectionable when it only applies to certain subsets of the electorate and is coupled with a slew of other restrictions aimed at that same subset of the electorate.

While it’s tempting to frame this court battle as a proxy war between Hillary Clinton and Scott Walker that could serve as a preview for electoral battles to come, I’m uncomfortable with the undertones. Yes, Republicans want to win Wisconsin badly, and are willing to go great lengths to make that happen. Like Pennsylvania, where Republicans have had their fair share of voting rights abuses, they feel that the state is unfairly Democratic, in no small part because the state is so heavily segregated that they are able to overlook black voters in urban areas to simply assume that Republicans should be in the majority. As the lawsuit challenging these voting laws notes, Walker invoked this sentiment in his recall campaign, telling voters that “We don’t want Wisconsin to become like Milwaukee.” However, while this does mean that if these laws are overturned it will be easier for Democrats to win in Wisconsin (although Hillary Clinton is on track to demolish Walker in the state regardless), that doesn’t mean the laws aren’t racist and impractical on their own merits.

After all, show me someone who can say with a straight face that requiring absentee voters to forego email and fax in favor of snail mail makes any amount of sense, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know what email and fax are.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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