The Wisconsin State Assembly passed a voter suppression bill last night by a count of 60-35. The bill will force all residents to show ID at the polls, starting with next spring’s primary elections. Two Democrats and one independent joined 57 Republicans in voting for the bill.
Democrats introduced more than 50 amendments, all of which failed. The body debated the bill for more than six hours.
As the bill was passed, a few onlookers in the gallery began shouting their displeasure. The gallery was less than half full, with some familiar faces in the crowd from protests inside the building over the last week.
“Welcome to Wisconsin, Jim Crow,” yelled one man who was escorted out.
Others began to holler their disapproval as the session was adjourned, shouting their now-familiar “shame” chant.
Rep. Tamara Grigsby harshly criticized the bill, saying that her predecessors (she is African-American) “fought and died” for the right to vote, and that the bill, which will make it harder for the poor and minorities to vote, disrespects their memory.
As I have clarified, the voter ID requirements in the bill would not take effect until next year. However, other provisions, like the rule that voters have to live in their districts for at least 28 days to be eligible (right now it’s 10 days), will take effect right away, before the recall elections this summer. So voting laws will be changed in the two months before the recall elections, which will undoubtedly lead to confusion. In addition, election officials will ask for voter ID at the polls for the recalls, telling voters that they will need them for next time. This is a situation ripe for abuse by uninformed or just malign pollworkers, and will need to be watched closely.
The state Senate expects to take up the bill next Tuesday. There was some rumbling about a possible walkout. The bill is fiscal in nature, as it will cost $5.7 million to implement. So the “Fab 14″ Senators could conceivably walk out to block it. But it’s fairly unlikely that will happen, although anything is possible and the pressure could increase between now and Tuesday.
There’s also the probability of court challenge. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca raised that possibility last night. A court case would possibly stop implementation and push that past the recalls. The Supreme Court has upheld voter ID laws, and they operate in four states – Florida, Georgia, Indiana and Kansas. Twenty-four states mandate some form of identification for voter registration or at the polling place. Critics say that Wisconsin’s law is more restrictive than all of these, and other elements of the bill could be out of Constitutional order.
Ultimately, this bill is a solution to a nonexistent problem. Voter fraud is a myth; forcing photo ID at the polls merely adds a burden to governments and voters, particularly the 19 million Americans who have no eligible ID. There may be ways to deliver free photo IDs to everyone and encourage confidence in the process, but Wisconsin and the other states pushing these laws aren’t really trying to do that. They’re just adding a burden to the disenfranchised. The point is to suppress the vote.