April 10, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking

by Senator Lena Taylor

Stop the Assault on Voter Rights!

From Selma to Madison

Nearly half a century ago on “Bloody Sunday,” police officers and militia with billy clubs, tear gas, boots, fists, and attack dogs brutally assaulted non-violent marchers who were demanding the right to vote. In Selma, Alabama, our grandmothers in “Prayer Clothes” did not stop protesting when vicious police dogs snapped at their unprotected legs. Our grandfathers did not stop demanding their civil rights when billy clubs smashed them across the face. We need to honor their courage and sacrifice by continuing to fight for the right to vote right here in Wisconsin.

When President Johnson signed the voting rights act of 1965, he declared that the iron shackles of poll taxes and literacy skills would no longer hinder the political freedom of African-Americans. To ensure that these basic rights were upheld, tens of thousands of Americans have marched for civil rights, thousands have been beaten, and hundreds have died.

A new voter I.D. law here in Wisconsin—Act 23—threatens to disenfranchise people of color as well as the disabled, military personnel, students, rural residents, and the homeless. Without the required photo identification to cast a ballot, 220,000 Wisconsin residents cannot vote. We must act now to stop this newest form of discrimination.

WISCONSIN CONSTITUTION

Fortunately, the 1848 Wisconsin Constitution protects voters. According to a state circuit court judge, the new voter photo I.D. requirements violate the constitutional right to vote.   A Dane County judge declared that while the I.D. is free, technical barriers to obtaining the I.D. are insurmountable to many voters. Both courts suspended the law and left the final decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Constitution, the fourth oldest in the nation, will protect not only the democratic rights of African-Americans but also the rights of overseas military personnel and other Americans too far from home to cast their mail-in ballots.

It is fitting that on the 47th anniversary of the first Selma to Montgomery voting rights march, two judges put an injunction in place that declared the Wisconsin I.D. law unconstitutional until further notice. Let us hope that the conservative majority on the state Supreme Court does not choose to send our state in retrograde motion.

THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING

According to the NAACP, 21st century laws have pushed blacks out of the voting booth more effectively than 19th century Jim Crow laws. Like Frederick Douglass, the NAACP has appealed to the United Nations to show the world how a government supposedly of, for, and by the people has diminished into an autocratic state deliberately restricting the rights of minorities and those who traditionally vote democratic.

When Wisconsin requires a picture I.D. to vote, it resembles a racist poll tax. Another historical barrier asks citizens to prove residency in their houses.  This also resembles the outlawed Jim Crow laws of denying blacks the right to vote if they do not own property. While Act 23 was designed to rid the state of imaginary voter fraud (three hundredths of one percent), the law suppresses democracy.

DISENFRANCHISEMENT

Voter I.D.s are discriminatory. Two separate appeals courts have challenged Act 23. The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and others have brought lawsuits against the state for enacting a law that goes too far. Apparently, I am not the only one who thinks voter I.D. confounds common sense and violates our constitutional rights. 

I soon expect contentious arguments about voting rights before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. We must ensure a voter turnout unhindered by restrictions. The courts should guarantee that every qualified person in every community of America has an equal chance not only to vote but to have that vote be properly counted. If photo I.D. cards were required nationwide, an estimated five million voters would be unfairly disenfranchised.

CALL TO ACTION

Join me in this fight. Be prepared to protest the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision. Vote in every election. Stay informed. Speak out. Honor the legacy of Bloody Sunday by leading the way to change history for all Americans.