Election Day dust settles: ACLU of Wisconsin's take on voting rights, policy issues

Story Date: 
Nov 7, 2012

The ACLU of Wisconsin does not endorse candidates, so we did not have a partisan stake in the outcome of yesterday’s election. However, we are committed to ensuring that Wisconsin citizens can cast a ballot without misinformation, intimidation or barriers. We focused our efforts leading up to November 6 on educating voters about their rights and working alongside partners in the Wisconsin Election Protection 866 OUR VOTE hotline project and poll watching.

ACLU staffers were among the attorneys who received thousands of calls yesterday from voters with questions or complaints about our voting system. Long lines, confusion over photo ID rules, questions about proof of residency and inadequate staff and ballots characterized most of the problems in the very high-turnout election. While there were complaints about aggressive or disruptive poll observers, serious problems were isolated incidents that were addressed by polling place managers. Ultimately, any barriers voters face on Election Day in Wisconsin lie in our laws and our antiquated elections system.

After yesterday’s election, the party composition of Wisconsin’s state legislature and executive branch is still solidly in the hands of the Republican party. While we hope to see more compromise and cooperation among legislators on the federal level, we still expect to see more anti-civil liberties measures introduced at the state level. It is our hope that in our purple state, legislators will identify priorities that enjoy bipartisan support. Reducing overincarceration, for instance, would address Wisconsin’s disproportionate minority incarceration as well as the strain our prison system has on our state budget.

Without more moderation in the creation of state policy, the courts remain the last line of defense. Many of Governor Walker and legislative leaders’ polices on education (Milwaukee voucher school discrimination against students with disabilities), transportation (expanding highways to Milwaukee suburbs while cutting public transit as well as lingering challenges over broken agreements with train company Talgo), voting (voter ID challenged in federal court and stopped in state courts) and redistricting (the state will be paying $257,000 in attorneys’ fees for approving discriminatory district maps) are facing costly legal challenges or are being scrutinized by the federal government.

In Minnesota, voters rejected referenda that would require photo ID to vote and ban same-sex marriage. Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been stopped in the courts for now, but the ripple effect of the 2011 law is felt in voter and poll worker confusion. Wisconsin’s discriminatory same-sex marriage ban is still enshrined in our state Constitution and a limited domestic partnership registry is being challenged in court. On these issues as well as ex-felon disfranchisement (video) and* overincarceration, we can look to Minnesota as an example of a state where voting rights, civil rights and public safety laws can be passed without a discriminatory impact.

 

* Correction: In 2009 a Minnesota state Senator proposed a change in the state's law barring probationers and parolees from voting, but at this time Minnesota law is the same as Wisconsin's denying the right to vote for those with felony convictions who are no longer incarcerated.

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