Sunday, January 16, 2011

One Wisconsin Now: Why Voter ID is bad for Wisconsin

Why Voter ID is bad for Wisconsin



Many of you have written in response to our email yesterday about the voter ID bill. Some of you were very enthusiastic in your support of our efforts to fight back against this assault on our voting rights. But others of you had questions about the bill, and wondered why we oppose requiring qualified voters to show an ID at the polls. "You have to show an ID to rent a video, why not to vote?" someone asked. "With all the voter fraud out there, I think voter ID is a good idea," another person wrote.

I want to address these questions and fully explain why this bill is wrong for Wisconsin.

First of all, the right to vote is guaranteed to citizens of Wisconsin in our state constitution. The right to rent a movie, open a checking account, go to the bar, get on an airplane or any other similar activity is not, and requiring an ID for these types of activities is not a barrier to exercising a constitutionally-protect right. Voter ID is fundamentally different.

There is absolutely no evidence of a widespread conspiracy to commit voter fraud. Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen has made prosecuting so-called voter fraud one of his top priorities. However, after a two year investigation into the 2008 election, Van Hollen has found a scant 11 potentially improper ballots out of nearly 3 million total votes cast. Of those, eight involved felons who voted while out in the community on probation or parole, a situation that voter ID would not remedy. That leaves 3 potentially bad votes out of 3,000,000 votes, or about 0.000001% of all votes cast. Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem.

The bill's authors, Republican Rep. Jeff Stone and Sen. Joe Leibham, have modeled their bill after Indiana's Voter ID law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the Supreme Court case upholding Indiana's Voter ID bill, the lower court found "99 percent of Indiana's voting age population already possesses the necessary photo identification to vote under the requirements."

Wisconsin's population is substantially less likely to have a state-issued identification. Those without state-issued photo identification and who would need to obtain one under the Wisconsin Voter ID bill include:
  • 23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65
  • 17 percent of white men and women
  • 55 percent of all African American males and 49 percent of African American women
  • 46 percent of Hispanic men and 59% of Hispanic women
  • 78 percent of African American males age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24
  • [Driver License Status of the Voting Age Population in Wisconsin, 6/05]
Yes, the bill as written does have a provision to provide free identification for some Wisconsinites. Each and every one of these people would have to take the time off (in many cases unpaid) from work or family obligations to flock to Wisconsin DMVs. However, access to the DMV is a problem in Wisconsin; Indiana provides its residents exponentially more access to its Department of Motor Vehicles offices to obtain identification.

Wisconsin and Indiana have similar voting age populations (4.35 million vs. 4,8 million), but Wisconsin is 50 percent larger geographically than Indiana (54,314 sq. miles vs. 35,870 sq. miles). Indiana not only provides its residents 50 percent more DMV offices than Wisconsin (140 to 91), but also nearly three times the total hours these facilities are open.
Also consider:
  • Twenty-six percent of Wisconsin's 91 DMVs are open one day a month or less, while none of Indiana's are open less than 100 days a year and nearly all are open over 250 days a year.
  • Wisconsin has only one DMV with weekend hours, while Indiana has 124 offices with weekend hours.
  • Three Wisconsin counties have no DMVs, no Indiana county is without a DMV.
  • Over half of Wisconsin's 91 DMVs are open on a part-time basis, while Indiana provides full-time DMVs in every county.
  • [Wisconsin DMV service centers and hours, by county; Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, locations and hours]
The need to expand the numbers and operational hours of Wisconsin DMVs to provide appropriate access could increase the $70 million biennial Wisconsin DMV budget by as much as 50 percent on top of the current $5 million price tag to provide free identifications.

Requiring eligible voters to produce ID at the polls is an unnecessary hurdle to exercising our right to vote which will prevent many people from voting. The "widespread voter fraud" that this bill is aimed at "fixing" does not exist, and the microscopic number of double votes will be FAR outpaced by the number of people who will be prevented from voting by the voter ID requirement. In a time when Wisconsin faces a $3 billion budget deficit, we simply cannot afford to double the DMV budget. Voter ID is a big-government, budget-busting solution in search of a problem; a solution that will make it more difficult to practice our most fundamental right.

That is why we oppose voter ID. I hope this email helps to answer your questions about this bill. If you're ready to join this fight, please sign up for our Voter Protection Task Force to push back against this assault on our democratic rights.