Election reform has been a hot topic of debate in recent years. Too few people vote, polling locations often are understaffed and special interest spending is at an all-time high.
While we should be encouraging more electors to participate in our democracy, Republican lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill that would disenfranchise more than 100,000 eligible voters by requiring them to show a photo ID at the polls.
Ironically, just a few weeks ago, Republicans were celebrating the end of the high-speed rail line. They said that the state couldn’t afford the ongoing operating costs, even if it would have created thousands of jobs. But now, with voter ID, it appears that ongoing costs are no longer a concern.
Previous estimates have shown that the ongoing costs of implementing the voter ID bill are more than twice as much as it would have cost the state to operate the high-speed rail line. While the voter ID bill won’t create thousands of jobs and help improve our transportation infrastructure like the high-speed rail project, it will likely require three new state DMV employees to help process the extra paperwork.
When you look at all of the facts, this bill is a solution in search of a problem. Despite years of investigations, no evidence of widespread fraud has ever been found. What’s more, it is estimated that more than 120,000 students, senior citizens and other qualified voters will have their voting rights restricted by this bill.
Students who don’t have a Wisconsin driver’s license with their current address, patients who are hospitalized and can’t get to the DMV and senior citizens living in a nursing home or retirement community who no longer have a valid driver’s license would be most at risk.
Additionally, less than half of African American and Latino adults have an ID, and for young adults ages 18 to 24, that figure drops to 26 percent of African Americans and 34 percent of Latinos. While these eligible voters would all face additional hurdles at the polls, felons with a driver’s license and double voters will still be a problem because this bill does nothing to prevent them from violating the law.
Unlike flying in an airplane or renting a movie, voting is a right guaranteed to every citizen by the U.S. Constitution. If we want to have fair and clean elections, we should focus on solving the real problems we’re facing rather than making it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Jennifer Shilling represents the 95th District in the Wisconsin Assembly.