Introduced on March 31st, a bill designed to provide a sweeping overhaul of election law in Wisconsin earned a strong rebuke from Republicans calling it "ACORN on Steroids". Senate bill 640 proposes at least four significant changes to current law, which other Republicans call 10% reform and 90% partisan advantage.
First, it includes an automatic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which means that when people renew their drivers' license, they are automatically registered to vote. Second, it limits poll watching by voting district or ward, which means that poll watchers will need to provide proof of residency before they can challenge the legitimacy of a vote. Third, it establishes satellite absentee voting locations to places like college campuses. And fourth, it imposes harsher penalties on those who thought to deceive or prevent others from voting. Let's unpack this bill and see why Republicans consider it a blatant partisan attack.
The first and probably the most controversial feature of the bill is auto-registration. Wisconsin Democrats seek to remove any confusion from the registration process simply by placing the burden of registration on the shoulders of government. Beside the obvious observation that if something goes wrong, people are able to sue the government for disenfranchisement, a serendipitous event seems to have occurred. Just as ACORN is being nationally de-funded and tied up in bureaucratic red tape, it appears that our state government has decided to do their bidding. In fact, it seems a bit worse than that.
At least ACORN required individuals to sign their own signatures and provide their own addresses, which allowed for some personal responsibility. If this bill were to pass Wisconsin's legislature, the state automatically does the heavy lifting. And by "heavy lifting", this means registering everyone including people not eligible to vote or interested in voting.
Similarly, in Minnesota, Democrats in the state legislature pushed a bill for an "auto-registration" when applying for or renewing a drivers' license, but Governor Pawlenty vetoed the legislation partly because registering to vote should be "a voluntary, intentional act" and partly because the bill lacked bi-partisan support. In other words, Minnesota Republicans tried to add a voter ID requirement to the bill, which made sense since license registration already occurs at the DMV, but Democrats shot it down for reasons unknown to the public.
Current Wisconsin law does not restrict the residency of poll watchers. As an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, votes casted in Wisconsin affect everyone that lives in Wisconsin. The inference is that cheating is still cheating regardless of voting district or ward, and therefore poll watchers should be able to challenge the eligibility of votes regardless where it occurs. However, the proposed bill not only seeks to limit poll watchers by residency, but seeks to impose a hefty fine up to $100,000 or up to 6 months in prison for those determined to have deceived or intentionally prevented people from voting.
Imposing a fine or penalty for infringing upon someone's right to vote is judicious when done in a proportional amount, but there doesn't seem to be a balanced effort by a Democrat-controlled legislature to consider voter fraud seriously. First, this is apparent because the Democrat proposal does not contain an equal $100,000 fine or 6-month imprisonment for voter fraud. Second, the bill requires identification to challenge a vote, but no identification to vote. And third, the bill does not contain the most basic safeguard, which is a voter ID card. How hard is it for the same DMV that gives you an ID card when you register for a license require that you show that same ID card for voter registration?
Another issue sprang up concerning residency restrictions. Democrat lawmakers want to see tighter restrictions on poll watching in larger cities like Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, and Kenosha. Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald, a Republican from Horicon, has criticized these lawmakers such as Representative Kessler for a double standard that seems to favor the supporters of Democrats He said,
"Rep. Kessler wants more people voting and less people watching, but only in heavily Democratic cities."
Another cause for concern is the set up of satellite absentee voting locations if the bill were to pass. Republicans in the state legislature criticized the feature for lowering safeguards on voter fraud. It stands to reason that not all satellite locations, e.g., college campuses, can be regulated to ensure that groups aren't compelling people to vote for particular candidates or parties.
There is a serious disconnect between the perceptions of Democrats and Republicans when it concerns elections. A routine charge from Republicans is that voter fraud is wide spread and should be reigned in by issuing tighter restrictions on absentee ballots and the voter identification process. Democrats routinely charge that voter abuse is wide spread and should be controlled by reducing the number of poll watchers and issuing tougher fines if people are caught deceiving or preventing people from voting.
Certainly, both accusations have some truth to it. However, in fairness, there are far more cases "on the books" with voter fraud than voter abuse in the United States. In Wisconsin alone, for instance, we have voter fraud on the books every presidential election cycle.
In 200o, we had the "votes for smokes" incident where Gore/Liebermann supporters were caught on video bribing the homeless to vote for free packs of cigarettes. In 2004, the Milwaukee Police Department issued a report showing that there were 4,600-5,300 more votes in Milwaukee than voters recorded to have casted their ballots. This particular election was critical since Wisconsin went to Kerry by a mere 12,000 votes. And finally, this year, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen charged 5 people with election fraud - two of which worked for ACORN for the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama.
How many have been charged in Wisconsin for voter intimidation? Approximately zero.