COMMENTARY: Crisis averted, but the politics continue
By Kevin Binversie
That’s what was promised us by opponents of the state’s new voter ID law that officially went into effect with last week’s nonpartisan primary elections. They foretold images of mass chaos at polling places, hundreds of voting Wisconsinites unable to cast their ballot and general mayhem.
All that was missing were predictions of blood in streets. Maybe I missed that?
Results of the law’s effect on the voting public of Wisconsin, however, seemed to show everything turned out OK. The only havoc at the polling places seemed to come from some rabble-rousers in Sheboygan and Racine who thought it was more important to cause a scene by showing their ID and then not voting.
For as much as the agency has been maligned during the past year about the politics of nearly non-stop recall elections, credit goes to the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, for preparing voters for the law. For the state agency charged with overseeing election laws and educating the public, they did a tremendous job.
Since passage, GAB has been preparing the public for the voter ID law in a number of ways. The most visual is a website, www.bringit.wisconsin.gov. Working with the motto of “Bring it to the Ballot,” the site is a one-stop shop for finding a nearby Department of Motor Vehicles location, what forms of identification are accepted, and what exceptions exist inside the law.
GAB also sent to county and municipal clerks’ offices mock-ups of informational brochures that could be customized so a municipality could add its seal or address. It also created templates for municipalities to use for their own news releases.
The agency created a “speaker’s bureau” in October 2011 where staffers were available to speak and give presentations to any groups that had questions, concerns or sought more information on the law.
“Overall, we had a good experience with voter photo ID at the Spring Primary election,” GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy said in a statement. “We were able to resolve the few issues that came up, and we will be following up with local election officials to avoid those issues in the Spring Election on April 3.”
Yet after all the success implementing the law, opponents continue to carry on with their lawsuits challenging its legality. Groups like the Wisconsin chapter of League of Women Voters — which had an education page on the Voter ID law on its website — and the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP plan to go forward with their legal battles in a Dane County courtroom next month.
Joining the lawsuit fray now is The Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that filed the fourth lawsuit against the voter ID law last week, charging that it unfairly discriminates against black and Latino voters, especially in the metro-Milwaukee area.
Such a legal position might be interesting to defend since the top vote-getter in a four-way race for city of Milwaukee treasurer was state Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee. Coggs, a member of one of the city’s most prominent black political families, topped a fellow member of his Democratic state Senate caucus, Tim Carpenter.
The two face off in April.
The politics behind these lawsuits are easy. Liberal and Democratic groups view voter ID as an assault on their voters, even though it is almost impossible to function in society without an ID card. They claim that showing one to prove who you are on election day is a modern day poll tax. They say it is an unneeded measure against nonexistent fraud that disenfranchises poor and elderly voters.
Yet, with last week’s successful launch of the voter ID law, none of that appeared to have taken place. In fact, it would seem the only people who were disenfranchised were those who though it was better to cause a scene than cast a ballot.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.