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Voter ID Nightmare: Up to 300,000 Wisconsin Voters Could Be Barred from Polls Thanks to Scott Walker

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On Tuesday, voters head to the polls in Wisconsin for both the Democratic and Republican primaries as one of the country’s toughest voting restrictions takes effect. Wisconsin’s controversial and restrictive voter ID law could prevent some 300,000 registered voters from casting ballots. According to Wisconsin’s strict new requirements, voters must now have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. While supporters say the law prevents fraud, critics note 9 percent of the Wisconsin electorate could be disenfranchised, a disproportionate number of them poor and people of color. The voter ID law is just one of several new voting restrictions passed by Republicans in Wisconsin since 2011. The state Legislature also eliminated early voting hours on nights and weekends and made it nearly impossible for grassroots groups to conduct voter registration drives. We speak with Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.” His new piece for The Nation is called “Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Could Block 300,000 Registered Voters from the Polls.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, voters head to the polls in Wisconsin for both the Democratic and Republican primary as one of the country’s toughest voting restrictions takes effect. Wisconsin’s controversial and restrictive voter ID law, signed by Republican Governor Scott Walker, could prevent some 300,000 registered voters from casting ballots. Last week in Madison, Wisconsin, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders criticized attempts to suppress the vote in the Badger State.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Democracy means one person, one vote. And whether Governor Scott Walker likes it or not, that is—that is exactly what we are going to bring to every state in this country, including Wisconsin.

AMY GOODMAN: According to Wisconsin’s strict new requirements, voters going to the polls tomorrow must now have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. While supporters say the law prevents fraud, critics note 9 percent of the Wisconsin electorate could be disenfranchised, a disproportionate number of them poor and people of color. The voter ID law is just one of several new voting restrictions passed by Republicans in Wisconsin since 2011. The state Legislature also eliminated early voting hours on nights and weekends and made it nearly impossible for grassroots groups to conduct voter registration drives.

To explain all this, we’re going to Chicago to speak with Ari Berman, who covers voting rights for The Nation. His book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. His new piece in The Nation is headlined “Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Could Block 300,000 Registered Voters from the Polls.”

Ari Berman, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain how 300,000 people in Wisconsin alone could be blocked from voting.

ARI BERMAN: Thank you for having me again, Amy. So, as you mentioned, nearly 10 percent of the electorate in Wisconsin lack a government-issued photo ID. There’s a clear racial disparity. Blacks and Hispanics are two to three times as likely as whites not to have this photo ID. Many of these people do not have birth certificates or cannot afford to pay hundreds of dollars to get their birth certificate. I talk about a story of an 89-year-old woman who’s been voting since 1948, and she would have to pay $200 to change the misspelled maiden name on her birth certificate. That’s what we used to call a poll tax. Then, students are being targeted by this. In Wisconsin, most student IDs are not accepted, including in nearly the entire University of Wisconsin system, so they have to issue separate IDs. It’s very burdensome for students and administrators. So, these are some of the barriers in Wisconsin. Not only that, but only 31 of 92 DMVs in Wisconsin are open five days a week. So there’s lots of issues heading up to this crucial primary, and then talking about Wisconsin being one of the most important battleground states in November.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s say you’re a student at University of Wisconsin, like Milwaukee, Madison. What ID can you use?

ARI BERMAN: You have to get a separate ID. They actually have to print separate IDs for voting, because the Wisconsin Legislature wrote this law in a way so that student IDs, to count, have to have signatures and a two-year expiration date, which no student IDs have. Driver’s licenses, for example, have a 10-year expiration date. So they added all of these new requirements that only apply to students. Not only that, you have to bring proof of enrollment for your school. So, normally in Wisconsin, you’d be able to show up and vote without any of this hassle. Now you have to get a separate ID. You have to go to a special place to get it that’s a mile away from downtown and the University of Wisconsin campus, and you have to bring proof of enrollment. And this is being done because if there’s large turnout of students, if there’s large turnout of voters of color, this tends to benefit Democratic candidates. If there’s lower turnout, that benefits people like Scott Walker.

AMY GOODMAN: So how did this get passed?

ARI BERMAN: Well, what happened, Amy—and we’ve talked about this before on your show—is, after the 2010 election, there was a surge of new voting restrictions, 180 new voting restrictions introduced in 41 states, and half the states in the country made it harder to vote. Wisconsin was in many ways ground zero for these efforts. When Scott Walker and the Republicans took power, they were determined to keep power. And this is how they’ve tried to keep power, by making it harder for people to vote.

As you mentioned, it’s not just this strict voter ID law. They eliminated early voting on nights and weekends. They made it nearly impossible to register voters. Scott Walker even tried to eliminate same-day voter registration in Wisconsin, which is extremely popular. And it turned out his own son had used same-day registration in the last election. And he was forced to back down. So I think what’s happening in Wisconsin is Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans are waging a war against democracy. The minute they took power, they were determined to do everything they could to keep it.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari, what happened in Arizona and North Carolina?

ARI BERMAN: So, in Arizona and North Carolina was slightly different situations. In Arizona, there was five-hour lines to vote, because Maricopa County, in Phoenix, closed 70 percent of its polling places, from 200 in 2012 to just 60 in 2016. In North Carolina, they had a new voter ID law in effect and a bunch of problems with long lines and people being turned away from the polls. Both states were severely impacted by the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, because, previously, North Carolina and Arizona would have had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. So, if Maricopa County, in Phoenix, wanted to close 60 percent or 70 percent of its polling places, if North Carolina wanted to have a strict voter ID law, they would have had to approve that with the federal government. But after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, they no longer have to do this. And we’re seeing these new restrictions all across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: These voter lines in Phoenix, an area that is heavily Latino, where there had originally been 200 polling places cut to 60, how is it possible that that happened? And what does this mean also for November and for the recorder, or whatever the name of the person responsible for this? Is it just because of her, her level, she who apologized?

ARI BERMAN: Well, they said that they were trying to save money. And I guess we can take them at face value. The Republican Legislature did cut the amount of money that local counties have to run elections. They miscalculated voter turnout. They thought that people would vote early or vote by mail; a lot of people ended up voting on Election Day.

But this is exactly why the Voting Rights Act is so important, because if Maricopa County wanted to close 70 percent of its polling places, they would have had to get federal approval for this, and we would have known months in advance that this was coming. And not only that, they would have had to show that it did not leave minority voters worse off. Well, in Maricopa County, minorities are 40 percent of the vote there. And clearly, there were very, very few polling places in predominantly Latino areas, for example, and so this would have been blocked. And if it had not have been blocked, we would have known months in advance, and voters could have adjusted. Instead, it caught everyone by surprise. People had no idea there were going to be five-hour lines.

And the worrisome thing is, if this happens on Election Day in 2016, people have no recourse, that there is going to be not just one Arizona potentially on Election Day, there could be multiple places with long lines, with new voting restrictions in effect. And this is the consequence of having the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari, I was on the subway on Friday night in New York, and there was a guy sitting next to me with a Bernie button, and I asked him if he’s going to be voting in the primary. He said, “Yeah, I’m one of the lucky ones.” And I said, “Why lucky?” And he said, “Oh, because all of his friends are not going to be able to vote, although,” he said, “they were for Bernie Sanders.” So I said, “Well, why can’t they vote?” And he said, “Because the independents can’t vote in the April 19th primary unless they switch their registration to Democrat.” And that happened last October, before any of the debates and any of the—any of the debates and any of the primaries or caucuses, so they didn’t understand that Bernie Sanders would have a chance—because it’s a closed primary.

ARI BERMAN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what he means.

ARI BERMAN: What he means is that only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary, and only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary. And I don’t think this makes a whole lot of sense, that a time when independents are the fastest-growing political group in the country, they are not represented in so many of these primaries and so many of these caucuses that are being held. What happened in Maricopa County in Arizona, in addition to the five-hour lines, which is that 20,000 of 24,000 provisional ballots were thrown out—an incredibly high number—because so many registered independents showed up not realizing that they could not vote for Bernie Sanders or another candidate. So there were people that waited in five-hour lines only to have their ballots rejected, which I think is a huge problem. We have millions of people that are being shut out of the political process because of restrictive voting laws, because of the way that parties are structuring their primaries and caucuses. And I think this needs to change going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are the states coming up, and are they closed or open primaries? For example, Wisconsin, and then you’ve got New York. You’ve got California.

ARI BERMAN: Sorry, Amy, I lost you.

AMY GOODMAN: I was asking, for people to understand, Wisconsin, what are the primaries closed? What are the open ones? California, New York, Wisconsin?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah. Well, the laws are different in each state, so I would urge everyone to google it, to check to see what you can do. Hopefully you can vote in the primaries. If not, definitely make sure you’re registered to vote in the general. I think that we should have things like same-day voter registration all across the country, so that not only can you show up and register to vote at the same time, but you could also update, for example, your party affiliation to be able to cast a ballot for one party or another. That makes a lot of sense.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, I want to thank you for being with us, covering voting rights for The Nation. His book is titled Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. He’s in Chicago today, headed to Wisconsin tomorrow for the Wisconsin primary.

And that does it for our show. We’re on our 100-city tour starting this week. On April 6—that’s Wednesday—I’ll be in Ithaca; on Friday, Columbus, Ohio, April 8; then St. Louis, Columbia, Missouri and Kansas City on the 9th; at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival on the 10th and Santa Barbara in the evening of that day; on Monday the 11th, we’ll be in San Francisco; on the 12th, at Stanford University and in Santa Clara. Go to our website for the full 100-city tour at democracynow.org.

We have two job openings, hiring a broadcast engineer and director of finance and operations. Check democracynow.org.

Happy birthday to Mike Burke and Nermeen Shaikh.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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