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Today in Voter Suppression: Wisconsin Edition

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Faith Barksdale,
Legal Assistant,
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September 12, 2014

Why does the state of Wisconsin want voter ID for voters? It’s not to prevent voter fraud— there have been ZERO instances of in-person voter fraud, which the state’s 2011 voter ID law purports to address. Instead, it disenfranchises voters who aren’t able to get IDs. That’s why a court found that the state’s voter ID requirement imposes an undue – and unconstitutional – burden on Wisconsin voters.

Yet the state of Wisconsin appealed, and today we’re at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals fighting for all Wisconsinites to have the right to vote as provided under the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

Though Wisconsin and other states claim to offer “free” voter ID, for many, these IDs don’t come easy and they don’t come cheap. You see, in order to qualify for a voter ID in Wisconsin you must present several forms of identification, often including a birth certificate. For many people this is a barrier that is insurmountable. Our client Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., was unable to get ID because his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway” instead of “Eddie Lee Holloway Junior.” When all was said and done, he was told that a new birth certificate would have cost $400 to 600 to fix. He testified in trial he didn’t have “400 to 600 cents.”

That sounds a lot like a poll tax, a practice forbidden by the Constitution in the 1960s.

Across the country, we’ve seen state legislatures impose voter ID and other measures that are nothing more than voter suppression. In Ohio, a judge agreed with us that cuts to early voting should not be in place for the midterm election. We’re still fighting cuts to early voting in North Carolina—which passed one of the most suppressive laws in the country—along with the elimination of Same-Day Registration.

Cutting early voting is a huge blow to the hundreds of thousands of voters who face hardship voting on Election Day due to concerns such as the inability to take time off work, arrange for childcare, or even catch a ride. For African-American voters in particular, these cutbacks are devastating. In addition to making disproportionate use of voting early generally (in North Carolina up to 70 percent of African-American voters cast their ballots during early voting periods in 2008 and 2012), African-Americans rely especially on Sundays during early voting periods.

And Same-Day Registration is one of the most powerful policy reforms for increasing voter participation. In fact, states that enact Same-Day Registration enjoy average voter turnout at rates 10 percentage points higher than those that don’t.

Though today’s hearing is about Wisconsin’s appeal to our victory over its voter ID law, there’s more at stake. We’re tearing down laws that threaten to chip away at our democracy.

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