Larson Report
NEWSLETTER

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A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

Last week, I spoke to students at Riverside High School and we had a great Q&A session. Even though most of them couldn't yet vote, they were on the edge of their seats as we talked about the issues of the day: local to federal and everything from abortion to immigration and what's happening with the President. I noted that whether they agree or disagree with me, their voice matters most when they have it heard at the ballot box by voting as soon as they are legal to do so, and then voting every time they can. We got into a discussion about all the different laws that have changed in a concerted effort to prevent people from exercising their right to vote. It got me thinking that maybe we should dive into this a little deeper.

 

As Thomas Jefferson said, "We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate."

 

Your vote is your voice, but under Gov. Scott Walker, votes - especially in minority communities - were intentionally suppressed. Nearly 17,000 registered Wisconsin voters were kept from the polls in November 2016 by harsh and racist voter ID laws.


My office has recently received questions about how the REAL ID (which begins Oct. 1, 2020) will affect voting in November of 2020. You do not need a REAL ID to vote, but you do need an acceptable photo ID.


This Larson Report will focus on the history behind why Wisconsin is one of only 17 states that requires a photo ID to vote, the impact of voter suppression on our elections, how Republicans continue to fight - at taxpayer expense - to ensure certain voters are suppressed (thus giving themselves a partisan political advantage), clarify what you need to vote in 2020, and what we can do to ensure every citizen has a voice in our government.

 

In Service,

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Republican Efforts to Suppress Voters in Wisconsin
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Former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who fought for voter ID laws, has credited those laws with Trump's win in Wisconsin.


Walker's history of voter suppression started before he became Governor. As Milwaukee County Executive, he directed staff to assist an individual who was working to place billboards with a voter suppression message during his campaign for Governor, an effort funded by the right-wing Bradley Foundation.


Wisconsin’s voter ID law was enacted in 2011 after Republicans took control of the legislature and the statehouse. This law requires citizens to show an approved photo ID to cast a ballot. A federal court blunted the impact of the law in 2016, ordering the state to give a free ID to any voter who asked for one, but the state’s implementation of that order was criticized as ineffective.


Of the states that instituted strict voter ID laws, Wisconsin saw the most dramatic reduction in turnout in 2016: at least 17,000 Wisconsinites - likely more - were kept from the polls, with a disproportionate impact on African-American voters. In the 2016 Presidential election, voter turnout in Wisconsin was 70.5%, the lowest in two decades and marked the first year a Republican Presidential candidate won Wisconsin since 1984.


This was not a coincidence or an accident. This was part of a calculated effort by Republicans, who passed the photo ID requirement in 2011 despite no conclusive evidence of widespread voter fraud. In fact, one of the worst cases of multiple voting in Wisconsin was by Robert Monroe, a Republican who voted five times for Walker during the June 2012 recall (he also gave money to Walker). In 2016, a former Republican staffer testified that some Republican State Senators were "giddy" about the prospect of suppressing votes by Milwaukee residents and college students. Two Republican-appointed Judges who upheld voter ID laws have since announced they regret their votes in favor of the law, with Judge Posner noting that strict photo ID laws are "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention."


UW-Madison Political Science Professor Kenneth Mayer studied voter turnout in Wisconsin after the state implemented the voter ID requirement. His study concluded between 7.8%-15.5% of eligible voters had been deterred from voting due to confusion over voter ID requirements or lack of proper identification. He stated "it’s certainly possible that there were enough voters deterred that it flipped the election."


Requiring a photo ID was not the Republican's only attempt at suppressing votes. On July 29, 2016, Judge James Peterson struck down limits on times and dates of early voting, a 28-day residency requirement and restrictions on the use of student IDs for voting; all of which were Republican-adopted laws that aimed at making voting harder and less convenient.


During the 2018 lame duck session, Republicans passed new laws limiting early voting to two weeks before the election, and restricted in-person absentee voting and the forms of ID that can be used to vote. A federal Judge ruled those laws violated a 2016 court order that blocked the state from making similar changes. Lawsuits regarding early voting restrictions in the lame duck session are ongoing and continue to be fought by the Republicans at taxpayer expense.

Protecting Your Voice and Vote in 2020 and Beyond

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The United States is almost alone among industrial countries and other democracies in putting most of the burden of registering to vote on individual voters.


Building on the legislation Democrats have proposed in multiple sessions (I am a proud co-sponsor), in Governor Evers' budget proposal, he directed the Department of Transportation to enter into an agreement with the State Elections Commission to provide information and facilitate automatic voter registration (AVR). GOP members on the Joint Finance Committee eliminated this provision. I drafted an amendment to reinsert the provision for AVR into the budget; however, it was blocked from coming up for vote.

 

Automatic vote registration works: places like Georgia have nearly doubled the rate of voter registrations. The Brennan Center for Justice specifically calls AVR a "needed reform" in states that have restrictive voting laws.


I firmly believe that AVR is a necessary step forward for our democracy and will continue to fight for it in the legislature. However, it is highly unlikely that AVR will be passed prior to 2020, so it is best to be prepared for what you will need to ensure your voice is heard.


In order to vote in 2020, you

- need to be registered (same day registration is offered at all polling locations) AND

- need to bring a photo ID to vote. Acceptable photo IDs include but are not limited to a Driver's License, U.S. Passport, or a Wisconsin DOT issued identification card. A University or college ID (with a photo) must be accompanied by a separate document that proves enrollment.


A proof of residence document (like a gas, electric, or telephone service statement) is only needed to prove you live in Wisconsin upon registering to vote. A photo ID proves who you are when you receive a ballot at your polling place. A REAL ID is not required for registering to vote or for receiving a ballot, and a Wisconsin Driver's License with your current address is not required to receive a ballot.

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Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472 and ask for your state representatives. Tell them you support legislation that ensures all eligible voters can exercise their right to vote and that each vote matters.

Below is the current legislation I have sponsored or support to expand voting rights.


SB228 and its companion AB303, Nonpartisan Redistricting: ensures that voters pick their elected officials; elected officials don't pick their voters. This is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.

SB159, Automatic Voter Registration: ensures (with an opt-out provision) that eligible voters are registered upon receiving a driver's license. This is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.


SB293 and its companion AB309, Keeps Eligible Voters Eligible: maintain the registration of all eligible electors
for so long as they remain eligible; ensures that voters are not taken off the rolls arbitrarily. This is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.


SB348
and its companion AB477, Restoring Voting Rights: restores the right to vote to certain persons barred from voting as a result of a felony conviction. This is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts.


SB246
and its companion AB168, Making Voting Easier: a voter would not be required to state his or her name and address if the voter is unable to do so. This passed unanimously out of committee is waiting to be scheduled for a vote by the Majority Leader.


SB307
and its companion AB320, Expanding Voting Rights: extends voting rights to 17-year-olds to vote in a primary if they will be of voting age by the general election. This bill is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.


SB242
and its companion AB247, Clarifying Voting Procedures: the Wisconsin Elections Commission has requested clarification on procedures related to absentee voting and voting procedures. The Senate bill passed unanimously out of committee and is waiting to be scheduled for a vote by the Majority Leader.


SB193
and its companion AB203. Direct Balloting: allows an individual to cast their in-person absentee ballot directly into the voting machine. The Senate bill passed out of committee and is waiting to be scheduled for a vote by the Majority Leader.


SB197
and its companion AB185, Removing Electoral College: entering into an agreement among the states to elect the president of the United States by means of a national popular vote. The bill is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations.

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