February 11, 2008

Voter Disenfranchisement

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

A few years ago, the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office released a report entitled, “Preliminary Findings of Joint Task Force Investigating Possible Election Fraud.” The report detailed hundreds of specific instances of voter fraud and intimidation in Milwaukee, alone.

As a nation, many of us are all too aware that voter fraud and intimidation are not “new” problems.  Since its inception, our country has struggled with creating a voting procedure that is both fair and accessible to all those entitled to participate in the process.  Understanding that there have always agitators who have attempted to silence the voices of dissenting views or opinions, the United States has experienced some shameful periods in our history regarding voting.

We know that intimidation, deceptive, and fraudulent tactics have been used to keep citizens away from voting sites.  These efforts have included lynchings, cross burnings, beatings, and threats.  Many of our nation’s residents are old enough to remember “poll taxes” or exams on the constitution as literacy tests being utilized as deterrents to voting. 

We certainly know the historical struggle for both women and African-Americans to obtain the right to vote.  Seeing both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, a woman and an African-American, respectively, as the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President is testifies to just how hard we have worked to create parity in our electoral process.

Yet much remains to be done.  Whether we look at voting irregularities in Florida during the 2004 presidential elections, malfunctioning voting machines, or harassment at voting sites, we know that due diligence continues to be necessary to protect the right to vote.  Efforts to deceive or disenfranchise voters are alive and well.  Whether placing literature in targeted neighborhoods with incorrect voting dates, poll locations, or endorsement information, we have seen consistently deliberate efforts to minimize participation of some citizens in the most basic of American rights. 

To assist in the protection of those rights, I am introducing legislation that will make it a crime to knowingly give voters inaccurate information about voting—like who can and cannot vote, when people can vote, and who has endorsed which candidates.  In fact, at the federal level, Senator Obama has been working in the Senate to pass similar legislation that he authored to protect voting rights and prevent deceptive and intimidating practices that disproportionately disenfranchise some voters.

With every level of government—federal, state, or local—we must actively work to ensure that every voice is heard and every vote is counted. To that end, I encourage each of you to become educated on voting laws or to contact the Elections Divisions with the state’s Government Accountability Board at 608-266-8005 should you have any questions.