In its rush to pass legislation to restrict voting before the recall elections, the majority party in the state Senate has shown an utter disregard for common respect and fair process.
Proponents of the bill like to point out the long periods the Legislature has devoted to “debate” of the issues, but their steamroller tactics have only undercut debate.
Earlier this week they systematically rejected almost 30 amendments to the photo ID bill offered by the minority party. The amendments would have made the law less restrictive for voters and saved millions of tax dollars.
For example, one amendment would have protected elderly citizens who have been regular voters for decades but do not need a driver’s license. Another would have provided the funding needed to educate local election officials and voters in the new procedures. Yet another proposed to save millions of dollars by allowing UW-System student ID cards to be eligible for voting with an expiration date of four years rather than two years. The majority steadfastly refused to comment on the amendments, and they apparently did not see any reason to defend their flawed bill.
Finally, they cut off debate Thursday just as Senator Fred Risser was describing how one provision of the bill could affect an individual who cannot sign the poll book because of arthritis. He explained that, as the bill is written, election officials could withhold a ballot from such a person if they think she actually could sign the book. The majority would not wait a few minutes for Senator Risser to finish his statement, and they certainly were not going to consider this serious flaw in the legislation.
They went ahead and took the vote while he was still speaking. Eight Senate Democrats did not participate in the vote because of the shameful procedural breach. Who can blame them, when members of the majority party show no regard for their equally-elected colleagues across the aisle?
Citizens expect their representatives to thoughtfully consider how the legislation they wish to pass will affect people in the state. We expect them to work out ways to accomplish their objectives while protecting the interests of all citizens. That was the goal of the framers of our state and national constitutions, and generations of lawmakers have worked to develop procedures to protect against abuse of power. It appears that those in power now would throw all of that away.
The League of Women Voters calls on Governor Walker to consider the significant problems with this bill and veto it, saving Wisconsin the cost of implementation, reduced participation in elections and possibly legal challenges.
We urge the Legislature to act quickly to appropriate funds for the Government Accountability Board, which has little time to train local election officials and educate voters in the few weeks before the recall elections this summer. It is the responsibility of the Legislature to commit the funds to support the laws they pass. It is the least they could do.
Andrea Kaminski is the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that promotes informed and active participation in government.