“Free, fair and accessible elections are sacrosanct, and the right of every legal voter to cast their vote must be unassailable”
– Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls)
Since one party took control of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Senate and Governor’s office there has been a steady stream of roadblocks designed to suppress votes to keep power.
First was the extreme gerrymandering of districts, carving out units for the right and left. River Hills, for example, was plucked out of the North Shore to give the oft-threatened Mrs. Alberta Darling a safer seat. The courts threw out a few of these districts, but most remain.
The second assault on voter rights was the voter I.D. bill which has been put on hold by several courts. Skipping the point of “need” – we have convicted more State Senators and Representatives in the last two decades than all of those convicted of any voter fraud – the voter I.D/ law is designed to suppress votes.
How? Well a voter needs to go to a Department of Transportation (DOT) Motor Vehicle location to register. And, guess what, these offices are limited in hours when they are open and where they can be found. Ozaukee County, for example, has no DOT offices. As important, the documentation required is onerous. I did not need this type of documentation to join the Army, to get an FBI-cleared top secret clearance or a driver’s license and passport.
If the intention of the ID law is to stop people from voting twice (part of the party’s mythology), then this does not solve the problem. For if you wanted to register people with I.D. you could merely have every county seat and large city issue voter I.D.s. They could have more convenient hours and it would be less costly than using the DOT.
But that is not its purpose. The purpose is to suppress voter turnout.
The third ploy was to prevent injunctions until a case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Legislative Bureau declared this ploy to be illegal, but the party passed it anyway.
Now the party wants to limit recalls and end early voting.
There is a certain irony in Republican Rep. Mark Born’s comment that “If the trust in our elections is undermined, our entire representative democracy is underdetermined.” Of course he is right, but not in the sense that he made this statement.
The party has seen the demographic trends. They saw Obama and Baldwin win Wisconsin by large margins, even though Baldwin ran against a popular ex-governor who could do more push-ups than I could when I was in the Army. Without gerrymandered districts, they would have lost by 200,000 votes.
What would happen if you had a person of principal from the party, who cared about insuring voting rights for everyone? Actually there is such a person, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.
He was instrumental in passing the first Voting Rights Act and is writing a law to overcome the parts of the law that the Supreme Court weakened.
I have known Jim for many years and often attend his meetings, where I have been critical of his votes. Yet as a young man traveling in Florida, he saw the evil of segregation. He once stated that the right to vote is the single most important right in our democracy. My own passion for voter’s rights came from the time I was in Vietnam and was denied the right to vote because my absentee ballot needed to be notarized. There were no notaries in the Delta!
Sensenbrenner has the courage and the morals to do the right thing. He is not worried about clinging to power at any cost. Yes, he is partisan on many issues, but on this issue, he wants policy to ensure that everyone has the equal opportunity to vote.
What a contrast!
Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman, a former River Hills trustee. He served as a volunteer during the Vietnam War and was awarded the Bronze Star and Air Medal.