From the look of it, there is simply no time to lose in Wisconsin to pass the most draconian and disenfranchising voter-identification law in the country (it surpasses even an extremely controversial Indiana law that requires voters to present government-issued photo ID). The new Republican governor in what's now an all-red state -- all three branches of the government are, after the last election, controlled by Republicans -- wants immediate action so the voter-ID law can be in place before the April 5 election for the state Supreme Court. Another, related bill would write the voter-ID law into the state constitution.
Under the proposed Wisconsin bill, voters must present a valid (presumably current) Wisconsin driver's license, military ID, or "identification certificate" issued by the Department of Transportation -- not just any government-issued ID; other forms of government-issued photo identification, including student IDs from public universities, would not be accepted. In practice, anyone who does not currently have an in-state driver's license with their current address will have to go through the arduous process of obtaining an ID at the DMV, which entails providing one's Social Security number as well as proof of name and date of birth (presumably with a birth certificate) and citizenship (with a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers). Note also that voters would have to rely on the under-resourced Departments of Motor Vehicles, which has extremely limited hours.
Some basic numbers: Eighty percent of men and 81 percent of women in Wisconsin have a valid ID, but:
- 23 percent of people over 65 do not have a valid ID
- only 45 percent of African American men and 51 percent of African American women have valid ID;
- 54 percent of Hispanic men and 41 percent of Hispanic women have a valid driver's license; and
- 47 percent of Milwaukee County's African American adults and 43 percent of the county's Hispanic adults have a valid driver's license.
So the target of this measure becomes clear: young people, including students, African Americans, the poor, and the elderly -- coincidentally, groups that have traditionally voted for Democrats.
As I explained in an article last week, voter-ID laws do virtually nothing to prevent real vote fraud, and the type of fraud that its proponents claim is a problem -- impersonation at the polling place -- is next to nonexistent.
Additionally, Wisconsin is projected to have between a $2 billion and $3 billion budget shortfall, and the voter ID bill will have an initial price of $2.5 million (this does not include the cost of training poll workers or conducting a voter-education program, as well as additional recurring costs).
Given all that, why the rush? Wisconsin did quite a lurch into Republican hands last November, not only sweeping state offices but taking down progressive stalwart Russ Feingold. Republican Winsconsinites are determined to keep things in their hands.
-- Tova Wang
(Tova Wang, a senior democracy fellow at Demos, is an occasional contributor to TAPPED.)