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.

Other problems included understaffed polling sites, not understanding the law related to provisional ballots, over 300 individuals not able to register or vote for lack of proof of residence, young people and first-time voters not having acceptable ID and therefore not able to vote, and people leaving the polling place without voting because the registration and/or voting lines were too long. Recommendations to correct these problems include increasing the number of polling staff, improving election official training, developing better polling site management (e.g. having a Greeter at a site can help things go more quickly and efficiently), and increase and target voter education.

The report from Common Cause in Wisconsin may be even more disturbing.

Common Cause says that due to gerrymandering only one in ten legislative races for state Assembly and state Senate is competitive (defined as within 10 percentage points, e.g. 55% to 45% or closer). In the November 2016 election this means that only 12 out of 115 Assembly and Senate seats meet the 10 point definition of competitive.

Before redistricting (gerrymandering) took place in 2011, 23% of Assembly and Senate races were competitive in the 2010 election. Through this process legislators create district maps that make majority party seats “safe” and deprive voters of any real choice in 90% of state elections. Common Cause’s solution: Adopt Iowa’s non-partisan plan for developing fair voting maps.

The argument most espoused for the photo ID law is that we need to prevent voter fraud even though there is almost no evidence of it. If even one person votes illegally it affects the integrity of the whole process for all legal voters.

Conversely, the same argument applies: if even one legal voter is kept from voting it has the exact same affect. Based on extensive anecdotal evidence and the League Report, it is clear as day that way more than one legal voter has been denied the right to vote and we need to fix the problems. The solutions seem relatively simple—adopt the Iowa plan for redistricting, and allow voters who lack the required photo ID or other requirements, such as proof of residence, to sign an affidavit swearing or affirming that they are who they say they are and are eligible to vote.

I remember when we were proud of high voter turnouts and clean elections in Wisconsin. We must return to those days and make it even better by guaranteeing, not that we prevent one illegal voter, but that we assist all eligible voters in exercising their constitutional right.

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.

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