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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24 Responses to “Wisconsin’s laundry list of voter suppression laws challenged in court”

  1. Joshua Pabelick says:

    um again state IDs are free and you really trying to argue that there is no free time period in all their lives that they can’t get a FREE id? Last time i checked some states will actually allow you to put in for one online as well

    Sorry your just making it seem like the people opposed to this are either really lazy or just not willing to get something that is free

  2. DoverBill says:

    They’re not free is you live in a ghetto, have three part-time jobs ya walk to work and have no car, driver license, transportation to a DMV that is now more than 25 miles from where ya live cus your party shut them down in heavily black neighborhoods?

    At the very least, is this not a burden on the poor or a poll tax.

    At the very most, are you shitting me?

  3. Joshua Pabelick says:

    What does me being white have to do with people getting a free ID? Are IDs only free if your white? I don’t think so

  4. DoverBill says:

    “im confused how any of this is restricting honestly”

    Obviously, as every argument ya posit applies only to those with those with already free access to the voting booth!

    I”m assuming that you are white?

  5. The_Fixer says:

    Well, well, I am so pleased that you have taken such an active interest in where I live. I can’t tell you how much that interests me – which is very little. As to the rest of your screed, I’ll resist the temptation to call you names like “Clueless Dolt” (although I won’t defend you in the event someone else does), and stick to facts.

    The ACA is a sham pyramid scheme? Do you realize that all insurance operates on the basis of healthy people paying for the not-so-healthy people’s care? The reason why “young people didnt sign up in droves” might be because they are now able to be covered under their parent’s plans until the age of 26?

    Emergency room visits going up can be due to several reasons. The article you cite below (which was tough to read as the Washington Times appears to be little more than an advertising farm) does not give a reason that I could find as to why. Maybe it’s because people realize that they can now get health care that they are going about it improperly? There are other possibilities, too.

    Now let’s talk about racism. That’s pretty hard to measure, but we have a few clues. Ranked at #24 by a strictly voluntary Internet poll, it nonetheless has enough of a problem that there was a bill introduced to confront institutionaliuzed racism in the criminal justice system in the state. Wisconsin leads the nation in incarcerating minority men, one measure of racism. Source Link. Another is the fact that Wisconsin imprisons more African-American men than any other state. Source Link. Then there’s my own experience of listening to people and seeing people decorating their pickup trucks with that universal symbol of racism – the Confederate Flag.

    Now let’s talk about alcoholism. Last year, (2014) Wisconsin dropped to #2 in binge drinking from it’s former top spot. Source Link. Go to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and look at several reports they have on various types of alcohol consumption. Wisconsin is well above the national average in both 30-day “Current Consumption” and binge drinking, as mentioned earler. Source Link.

    Unions. Wisconsin has a long tradition of supporting them. Did you know that Wisconsin was the first in the nation to establish workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance? Wisconsin was the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Sourece Link. Wisconsin’s first unions were formed in Milwaukee, the bricklayers in 1847 and the carpenters ‘way back in 1848. Xource Link.

    You question Wisconsin’s progressive track record, asking “As for the rest of your stick if WI was really so progressive how did Walker dominate every election he had?”. I’ve already pointed out that Wisconsin has long been progressive in its support of labor unions, and that’s the point – we are saying that Wisconsin used to be progressive.

    As to Scott Walker’s supposed domination of the elections in which he was a candidate, his margins of victory were far less than domination. In the election years that he has won, other Republican governors won by a greater margin. Source Link.

    A few other odds and ends. The people who suffered most with the enactment of the anti-union Act 10 were teachers. I know teachers – their paychecks can hardly be considered “lush salary packages”. I know one who lost $5,000 annually in salary and benefits, and she was not making anywhere near the money that mid-management makes in the private-sector. Yet, she has to deal with ill-mannered kids who are neglected by their parents. Many teachers make up for funding shortfalls in schools by buying supplies for their students out of their own pockets.

    Walker has a long history of doing as he pleases and ignoring the law. He, and the right-wing money and noise machine, have somehow convinced the people of a formerly progressive state to vote against their own interests. I think, as a guy who lives here and contributes to the state (both economically through my skill set, and through the volunteerism I’ve engaged in through the 30-plus years I’ve lived here, feel perfectly entitled to state my opinion. Your insults won’t change that.

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  7. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I would like to see the state by state data on ER visits.

    I can defend my statement about Christ’s teachings with Matthew 25: 35-40. What do you have for your statement about his teachings?

  8. Joshua Pabelick says:

    ER visits in large have grown not specifically WI numbers but as a nation. Jesus also taught caring for yourself which society is sorely lacking these days


  9. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    That’s sort of like “America, love it or leave it.”

    People realize that the ACA is a sham? I’m sure they do. People also realize the ACA is great. It depends who you talk to, doesn’t it?

    Apparently, you are not Christian. After all, Christ said it was the responsibility of his followers to take care of the poor and elderly. Fortunately, the elderly are taken care of by Medicare. I didn’t know that about emergency room visits. The opposite is true of Minnesota. That’s really strange since Wisconsin and Minnesota are next to each other. Could you supply a link to that information?

  10. Joshua Pabelick says:

    Since you clearly hate WI and think we are a bunch of alcoholic racist why don’t you do us and yourself a favor and move? Nobody is making you stay and i don’t think anyone would care if you left. WI isn’t but into the fear of the left simple as that. People realize the ACA is a sham built on the fears of people catching illnesses or sporadic cancer. Honestly look at the ACA and you can tell it was a pyramid scheme build off the young to support the poor, elderly and unemployed. Of course that back fired as emergency room visits have greatly increased since the ACA was put into place and the young didnt sign up in droves.

    As for the rest of your stick if WI was really so progressive how did Walker dominate every election he had? Could it be that WI doesn’t support the ideas of union control, lush salary packages and selling our future

  11. White&Blue says:

    Let’s just hope none of the clowns turn out to be Mr. Pennywise (shudder).

  12. White&Blue says:

    Maybe marshmallows might be a better choice? There’ll be plenty of burning dreams on which to roast them on.

  13. Joshua Pabelick says:

    im confused how any of this is restricting honestly

    Photo ID requirement for voting- if you have a job, drink, smoke, drive, go see movies, have a bank account you already have this

    Reducing early voting from 30 days to 12, while eliminating it entirely on evenings and weekends. If you need more than 12 days to vote you probably dont care that much about voting to begin with

    Require proof of residence when registering to vote- seems like common sense really. If you want to vote here prove you live here

    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- again stops people from voting outside of county lines

    Increased the residency requirement for voting from 10 days to 28 (excepting presidential elections)- nothing wrong with having people actually live where the vote for a month

    Require that citizens who move within the state less than four weeks prior to an election vote in their old locality- again not unreasonable to expect people to have an established address to vote

    Eliminated faxing and emailing of absentee ballots to anyone other than military or overseas voters- with 12 days to vote dont see why this was ever allowed for people other than military to begin with

    Prohibited municipal clerks from returning absentee ballots to citizens to fix mistakes on their forms
    same as any other elections you shouldnt get a do over because you made a mistake

    Required an area for poll monitors be set up between three and eight feet from the table where voters sign in- a lot of places already have this so not a big deal

    Eliminated straight-ticket voting for all but military or overseas voters, increasing wait times at polling locations- hmmmm forces people to see who their voting for not sure thats a bad thing

    Made it harder to use a student ID as proof of residence when registering to vote

    nothing makes it harder to use a student ID

  14. Indigo says:

    Yes, it’s the Zeitgeist and that brings us back to the Hegelian pendulum. Damn!

  15. The_Fixer says:

    Oh, I wish.

    Actually I live in the hometown of that famous football team. The city is becoming more diverse, but there’s still a lot of racism here. There’s a lot of other -isms here, too, including alcoholism. That may explain a lot about Wisconsin and this city in particular.

    While the city itself is perhaps becoming more liberal, you don’t have to drive very far (20 miles will do it) to find conservative, small-town America in all its regressive glory. I work in a small town about 20 miles away. I drive through farmland on the way, and see the campaign signs for Republicans. I drive by a decrepit barn with a sign saying “ALL Life Is SACRED” on it. It’s the land of church bake sales and pressure to conform.

    It’s also, I might add, is the land of fundraisers for people who’ve experienced terrible loss and huge medical problems. Which is great and generous and all, but the irony comes in that they all hate “Obamacare” and any drift toward socialized medicine (I know, Bill Purdue, the ACA is not a very substantial drift toward socialized medicine, you can relax now). That socialized medicine that would save them the trouble of having all of these fundraisers.

    Essentially, the people in these small towns and rural areas have bought into the “Us vs. Them” mentality that’s been pushed by the Republican propaganda machine, as I pointed out above in my reply to Indigo.

  16. The_Fixer says:

    I can’t honestly point to one thing that caused Wisconsin to get on the wrong track. I suspect that a lot of it has to do with what has afflicted other parts of the country – fearmongering on the part of the ruling class (not-so-oddly, mostly Republicans).

    The steady pumping up of any fear, however irrational it may be, the steady dissemination of right-wing propaganda and the concerted effort to suppress voting affect any place that’s vulnerable. Those vulnerable places are states with large rural populations that aren’t offset by large urban populations.

    I have met many smart, thoughtful people who live in rural areas. By and large, though, rural people are captive to a particular culture. It revolves around, as Obama said, God and Guns. In Wisconsin, add Alcohol and racism to the mix and you’ve got the 4 poles that hold up the Republican tent in the state.

    Republicans are good at working the long game and repeating a talking point endlessly. Their message has been pounded into the heads of rural voters who have had little exposure to alternative narratives, or have rejected them because it would be going against the local grain.

    Swinging it back the other way will take persistence, and most likely, a lot of one-on-one work. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see it.

  17. Indigo says:

    That makes it official. The Republican Clown Car is entering the Big Tent while we ponder these developments.

  18. Indigo says:

    Over to you, then. It was quite a surprise to me when Walker was elected. I expected better from Wisconsin. Here in Florida, with Governor Scott, that was a disappointment but not a surprise. Myself, a native Hoosier, am appalled by the rude religion goings-on in Indiana but again, not really surprised. Wisconsin, however, used to be a bastion of clear thinking. What went wrong?

  19. 2karmanot says:

    I hope you live in Madison, it doesn’t count as WI, anymore than Ann Arbor counts as Michigan. :-)

  20. 2karmanot says:

    Oh, by all means enjoy! I’ll bring the popcorn! :-)

  21. The_Fixer says:

    I’d prefer that we act before they put on the armbands. Hell, as much as I don’t like it, I live in Wisconsin (kinda stuck here).

  22. White&Blue says:

    Oh yeah, I just heard that Lindsey Graham is also running in 2016. You are going to have a very, very interesting election come 2016. I’m excited to see who’s campaign goes down in flames first. Is it wrong to enjoy that? Probably, but it’s too delicious to miss, even if they don’t give so much coverage about the election back here. But that’s why I read Americablog.

  23. White&Blue says:

    It’s unbelievable (or maybe not actually) to see one of the key foundations of democracy being undermined like this. But I’m glad that people are active in protecting their rights.

  24. Indigo says:

    I remember when Wisconsin was a progressive place. I guess the times really have changed. But let’s not panic until they put on their arm bands.

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