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State Views: What have Wisconsinites done to deserve voter suppression?

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Andrea Kaminski
August 9, 2013

MADISON -- The U.S. Supreme Court in June gutted key components of the Voting Rights Act, which became law on Aug. 6, 1965. Before the ink was dry on the high court's ruling, several states announced they will implement restrictive laws that have been on hold or introduce new voting restrictions.

Wisconsin was not covered by the voting act's “preclearance” requirements, which now cannot be enforced until Congress acts to update the law. However, we have had our share of unneeded and unfair voting laws proposed and, in some cases, enacted in the past couple of years.

For example, a new proposal from Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, would severely limit the hours when municipal clerks may offer in-person absentee voting for their constituents to no more than 24 hours a week, during business hours, for a two-week period prior to an election. This would reduce the opportunities for voters across the state who have daytime jobs or family commitments.

Proponents claim the proposal would create uniformity around the state, but it would not. By treating all municipalities equally, it would favor voters in small communities where a clerk serves a couple of hundred residents rather than 100,000. In addition, the proposal does not say that all clerks' offices shall be open 24 hours per week; rather, it says they shall be open no more than 24 hours per week. Thus it sets a maximum level at which a clerk may serve her constituents, not a minimum level.

Limiting early voting to business hours would complicate the lives of the many part-time municipal clerks in our state who have “day jobs” and perform their clerk duties off-hours. How will they serve their constituents, who also may work during business hours? This proposal would impose a statewide, cookie-cutter solution to a nonexistent problem.

It makes one wonder what Wisconsin voters have done to deserve yet another restrictive voting law. Wisconsin consistently ranks near the top nationally for clean, efficiently administered elections with high voter participation. Federal and state investigations have not substantiated the rumors of voter impersonation that proponents of restrictive laws often cite. The problems we have seen have largely been a matter of poll-worker error or, more rarely, mismanagement.

Founded by the suffragists who fought for decades to win the right to vote for women, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters has held for 93 years that voting is a fundamental right that must be guaranteed. Our government should not restrict a fundamental, constitutional citizen right based on unsubstantiated stories and circumstantial evidence.

If anything, lawmakers should be working to make registration and voting more accessible to all qualified citizens. We can do this by investing more in the training of local election officials, bringing our voter registration system into the 21st century, and equipping voters with full and reliable information about the choices on the ballot.

Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, 612 W Main St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53703; phone 608-256-0827. The league is a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government.



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