Wisconsin can be proud of its high voter turnout for the general elections on Nov. 6. With 2.9 million citizens voting, our state as usual ranked near the top in citizen participation. People know that Election Day is the one time when all citizens are equal in the greatest democracy in the world.
Yet some politicians are talking about introducing new legislation to restrict voting in our state. They have said they will introduce new voter ID legislation, despite the fact that two judges have ruled the last voter ID law unconstitutional.
Additionally, Gov. Scott Walker last week told an audience in California that he may push for an end to Election Day Registration in Wisconsin. He said this would take a burden off local election officials. Yet Election Day Registration allows many first-time voters to participate and ensures that recent moves or name changes do not impact a citizen’s ability to vote. It has worked well for Wisconsin for more than 30 years. Any attempt to eliminate Election Day Registration would be an attack on voting rights, and it certainly cannot be justified as a solution to a problem that does not exist. We’ve been down that road before, with the voter ID law.
The role of elections officials is to help citizens exercise their right to vote. The League of Women Voters has placed observers in the polls statewide in four elections over the past 15 months. They have consistently commented on the dedication and professionalism of our poll workers, almost all of whom bend over backward to ensure that all qualified citizens have the opportunity to cast a ballot and have it counted. We wonder how many local elections officials the governor surveyed before he concluded that Election Day Registration is “difficult for them to handle.”
In our democracy it is the job of the Legislature to write and pass bills, and then the governor has the power to sign a bill into law. Lawmaking should be done with humility and accountability. Legislation should address real problems and seek to fix them. In the process of introducing new legislation, lawmakers should seek public input — from their constituents, citizens in Wisconsin, not from potential donors in California or the national media.
At the beginning of the 2013 session, lawmakers will take an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions. If they cross the line and enact a law that violates the constitution, then citizens may challenge the law in court. Together the courts and the constitutions protect citizens from politicians who seek to manipulate the law for personal or partisan gain.
In the coming session, the League of Women Voters will be watching to see what lawmakers will do to support free, fair and accessible elections in our state. We are ready to call out anyone who introduces a bill that would restrict voting by Wisconsin citizens in the name of addressing a problem that does not exist. That is how democracy works.
Andrea Kaminski is executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. There are 16 local leagues in Wisconsin. Find the league on Facebook.