Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Read "Ringside Seat" by Tim Cullen

By Roger Utnehmer

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson will be recorded as the second-most effective executive in state history. The reasons are apparent in a recent book by a two-time state senator and Thompson cabinet member, Tim Cullen, "Ringside Seat."

Cullen served in the state senate from 1975 to 1986 when be was appointed the highest-ranking Democrat in the cabinet of Gov. Thompson. Cullen returned to the state senate for one term after a long career in the private sector, retiring in 2015.

(Full Disclosure: I knew Tim Cullen when I worked for Republican State Sen. Clifford "Tiny" Krueger in the mid '70's and we continue a friendship today serving together on the Board of Directors of Common Cause-Wisconsin. Tim, in "Ringside Seat," calls "Tiny" the greatest senator with whom he served.)

His book is an insiders' look at the best and worst of our political system. Cullen writes a critical portrayal of Wisconsin's current governor, Scott Walker, accusing Walker of dividing a state rather than uniting it and of pursuing an unneeded and divisive attack on public employees to fuel a presidential campaign.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Wisconsin's Real Voting Problems

By Tom Frazier

Two recent reports, one from the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and one from Common Cause in Wisconsin, sheds light on Wisconsin’s voting problems. And the problems do not include people impersonating other people in order to vote illegally which is the problem that is supposedly addressed by Wisconsin’s photo ID law. In fact, impersonating someone else in order to vote is already illegal; it is a felony which is probably why so few people attempt it.

The League of Women Voters Report was compiled based on placing 103 trained volunteers in 202 polling places to observe a range of problems in voting related to the April 5, 2016 election. For most voters everything went smoothly with observers reporting that “poll workers were professional, helpful, and respectful of voters.”

There were, however, enough problems reported to raise significant concerns about the integrity of the voting process in the state.

There were problems reported that poll workers in some locations did not know the rules associated with all the recent changes in voting laws. For example, voting officials incorrectly telling potential voters that the address on the photo ID (e.g. a driver’s license) had to be the same as their current address.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Democracy and Republic Depend on Voting

By Tom Frazier

We have now had two elections in Wisconsin under the law requiring a photo ID, and the results are not encouraging. Consider the following examples:

1. An older female voter in Stevens Point who was well know by an election inspector for 20 years, and by four out of five poll workers at her polling station, was denied the right to vote because she did not have a driver’s license or photo ID.

2. A grandmother in Dane County who came to her polling station with her granddaughter, a first time voter, was turned away because her driver’s license had expired and, because she had lost her job and couldn’t afford to get it renewed.

3. An older African-American man in Milwaukee who applied to the DMV for a free photo ID was turned down after waiting for five months because the name on his out-of-state birth certificate did not match the name he had used his entire life. He was told he could correct his name through the Social Security Administration or go to court to legally change his name. The irony is that this man voted without incident in the formerly Jim Crow South only to be disenfranchised when he moved to Wisconsin.

4. An 89 year old woman who has been voting since 1948 and had served on her Village Board since 1996 cannot get a free photo ID because her maiden name is misspelled on her birth certificate which would cost $200 to correct. She says “No one should have to pay a fee to vote.”

There are other problems with the law, including the fact that the Wisconsin Legislature did not appropriate any money to educate voters about the new law, DMV offices have limited hours (e.g. just 31 of 92 offices maintain normal Monday through Friday business hours), and the reason cited for the new law (i.e. voter impersonation) is virtually nonexistent. In a court case challenging the law, Judge Lynn Adelman said “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.” Adelman’s decision invalidating the law was reversed by the U. S. Court of Appeals.

Recently, Congressman Glenn Grothman created quite a controversy when he said that he thought Republicans could win the Presidential election because Hillary Clinton was a weak candidate and “now we have photo ID and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.” It is probably no coincidence that then State Senator Grothman also was quoted when the Legislature passed a law eliminating early voting hours on nights and weekends as saying he wanted to “nip this in the bud” before early voting spread to other parts of the state.

While as many as 300,000 voters in Wisconsin, by some estimates, may lack a valid photo ID for voting, another major negative impact on voting is redistricting (a.k.a. Gerrymandering). By fixing election district boundaries, thousands of votes are meaningless because the incumbent is in a “safe” district. Districts must be politically competitive for everyone’s vote to be equal.

I have always thought of voting as a scared right. My dictionary defines Republic “as a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them.” Democracy is defined as “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” Unfortunately, I can only conclude that we are, at best, not meeting those definitions and, at worst, deliberately tampering with those definitions. In either case, we must not allow our right to vote to be taken away or our form of government will be neither a Republic nor a Democracy.

Tom Frazier is a member of the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board, and was the executive director of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups from 1983 to 2010.