Friday, June 09, 2006

The Feds Meddle with Our Voting Rights

Earlier this week we found out that Wisconsin Congressmen F. Jim Sensenbrenner and Mark Green sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice to request a formal review of a recent ruling by the state Elections Board. In that ruling, the Board decided that voters registering on election day could use the last four digits of their social security number if they did not have a current photo ID.

The U.S. Department of Justice response states that Wisconsin voters who register at the polls can't swap their Social Security numbers for their driver's license number if they were issued a license. This is their interpretation based on their understanding of the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA).The author of the letter, Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella, wrote that the Department of Justice will be watching the Elections Board and “is actively seeking to ensure compliance with the requirements of HAVA.”

State Elections Board executive director Kevin Kennedy said that the letter doesn’t address a section of HAVA that allows states to determine whether the information voters provide satisfies the act.

This is clearly yet another chapter in the right wing effort to require voter identification at the polls. Attempts to pass some of the most restrictive voter ID laws have thankfully been vetoed by Governor Doyle.

Late last year a voter ID law in Georgia was overturned in federal court. In that case the Judge compared that voter ID requirement to the jim-crow era poll tax which required citizens to pay back taxes before being allowed to vote. These kinds of laws unfairly affected minority communities, as do the more recent ID requirements.

A study from UW-Milwaukee found that less than half of all blacks and Hispanics of voting age in Wisconsin have a driver’s license. The study further discovered that the mobility rate of many minority groups and college students are much higher than their older white counterparts. This type of frequent moving adds additional complications to having a “current” driver’s license. The study also found that over 177,000 elderly Wisconsinites lacked a current driver’s license or ID.

More recent results of a voter ID requirement was reported in Indiana earlier this year. In that state, returning veterans were denied the right to vote because their identification did not meet the letter of the strict law.

Governor Doyle proposed a package of election reforms that would help safeguard the process but also protect the rights of all Wisconsinites. Some of the details of the proposal would include:

Better training for all poll workers
Setting uniform poll hours
Early voting to help reduce crowds at the polls
Deputy Registrars would have to be trained
Groups registering voters would be barred from paying their workers by the numbers of people that they register.
The ability for residents to register at the DMV

These all appear to be solutions to the process problems that we have had in some past elections. But they are solutions that are not likely to disenfranchise any group of voters in our state.

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