STEVENS POINT -- Proponents of the Wisconsin voter ID bill deserve credit for piquing college students’ interest in current events.
Of course, this is accomplished by proposing to make students jump through hoops to exercise their right to vote. Granted, students stayed away from the last election in droves, but deny them something and they’re likely to suddenly desire it more.
In a giddy rush to require a state-issued voter ID in Wisconsin, proponents may even have drawn some attention away from the Green Bay Packers and the Super Bowl. Now that’s a coup, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
Up this way, the UW-Stevens Point Student Government Association, representing the voting rights of about 9,500 students, issued a statement calling “ongoing attempts of legislators in Madison to disenfranchise student voters unacceptable.” Going further, the student group specifically objects to the repeal of same-day voter registration, calling it “a direct assault against the voting rights of citizens statewide.” They got that one right.
In the interest of fairness, it must be said that when it comes to offending people, ID bill proponents are also flipping the bird to grandma and grandpa. Especially affected are those in rural Wisconsin, says state Sen. Bob Jauch of Poplar in northern Wisconsin. Jauch called proponents “clueless about the adverse impact on rural senior citizens who won’t have access to state DMV offices.” If an ID is required for this April’s election, a goal of some proponents, limited access to DMV services would make it virtually impossible for many rural senior citizens to obtain the identification card. Oops.
Jauch cites a case in point: “The Spooner DMV office is scheduled to be open only one day between now and the April election. No one in their right mind would seriously apply this new requirement if they understood that the consequence would be to deny these legal residents the opportunity to comply with voter ID requirements.”
Ah, but everyone has a driver’s license, right? Nope. About 175,000 Wisconsin citizens over the age of 65 don’t, and 70 percent of them are women, Jauch says. In some cases, they’ll have to hitch a ride of 50 miles round-trip to obtain an ID card at a DMV office with limited hours. Take that, granny.
But maybe the squelch-the-vote crowd will find a way to make it easier on rural senior citizens while still tightening the vise around students and urban minority populations. After all, that’s who they’re really after. Make no mistake about it, they might be horribly sloppy about details, but they know why they want to ram this baby out the door faster than you can say Super Bowl. They’re shaving votes from people likely to favor someone else.
As non-proponents have pointed out, there’s almost no evidence of fraudulent voting anywhere in the state. A 2008 election investigation conducted by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen produced a total of 11 potential voter fraud cases among 3 million votes cast in Wisconsin. Of those 11, five have actually been charged with voter fraud. Still, Van Hollen found it necessary to stretch the truth like taffy at a recent legislative hearing: “There is little doubt the requirement will suppress some turnout -- the turnout of those who vote illegally.” Yes, J.B., a few of those and thousands who would have voted legally.
Seems like a major overreaction for five cases of voter fraud, but here’s the real deal:
Barack Obama pummeled John McCain in 2008 Wisconsin returns, winning by more than 400,000 votes. But four years earlier, John Kerry bettered George Bush here by just over 11,000. Is it a stretch to suggest that a close race could be affected by this stinker? Of course not. Add Minnesota and a few other states pursuing it, and do you see a pattern, especially in close state and national elections? Never mind your politics. It just ain’t fair to the little folks of the world.
Some of the bill’s proponents like to claim they’re guardians of individual rights. So much for that one.
Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. email@example.com