In Wisconsin, Every Day is Voter Registration Day

State Senator Janis Ringhand

On Tuesday, September 22nd more than a thousand organizations are joining together to celebrate “National Voter Registration Day.” Volunteers will be registering hundreds of thousands of new voters throughout America in an effort to increase participation in our electoral process.

In many ways, our 239 year old American Democracy is still in its infancy. The great experiment to place political power in the hands of the people has always had detractors. The founding fathers made the decision early on that only white male property owners should have the right to choose our leaders. Over time, our constitution has been amended to include those who had previously been denied the right to vote.

The 1st Amendment of the Bill of Right guarantees people the right to free speech, to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances. 

In 1868, the 14th Amendment of the constitution was ratified declaring that all persons born in the United States are U.S. citizens with guaranteed rights and privileges including the right to vote. Two years later, the 15th Amendment declared that no citizen could be denied the right to vote based on color or previous condition of servitude.

Women were given the right to vote in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment which simply states that “no person shall be abridged of the right to vote based on sex.”

At the height of the civil rights movement, the constitution was again amended to prohibit the use of poll taxes or any other tax to prevent people from voting. Because of the continued resistance to allowing minorities to vote, Congress approved the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In this case, specific legislation was needed in order to enforce the 15th and 24th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The Vietnam War and the military draft propelled the 26th Amendment to ratification in 1971, which gives every U.S citizen who is 18 years old the right to vote.

President Abraham Lincoln declared in his Gettysburg Address “that this nation Under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”

Despite America’s effort to adapt to the times and increase the number of our citizens who are eligible to vote, there have always been those who try to protect the status quo by restricting access to the ballot box and denying eligible U.S. citizens their right to vote through restrictive registration requirements.

In Wisconsin, we are fortunate that nearly every day can be Voter Registration Day. Wisconsin is one of eleven state that allows people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day.

Registering to vote is easy in Wisconsin. You can register five different ways:

1)      Register online at https://myvote.wi.gov – this website has easy to follow instructions to help any Wisconsin resident to register to vote online.

2)      You can register by mail up to 20 days prior to Election Day by filling out a voter registration form, available online at www.gab.wi.gov/voters and mailing it in to the Government Accountability Board.

3)      You can register at your local clerk’s office during weekday business hours until 5:00 pm on the Friday before any scheduled election. You might want to check with your local clerk to verify their hours of operation.

4)      Special Registration Deputies are specifically trained to assist citizens in filling out the necessary forms needed to register to vote. Many municipalities use Special Registration Deputies to help senior citizens and disaffected populations register to vote.

5)      Register at the polls. Wisconsin is one of 11 states to allow Election Day Voter Registration. You will need to bring proof of residence in order to register and have a valid state issued ID in order to vote.

Every election, millions of American don’t vote because they didn’t know how to register. Millions more don’t vote because they are frustrated with the government and feel that their vote will not make difference.

Participating in elections is essential in order for the great American experiment of Democracy to survive. We need to ensure that Abraham Lincoln’s vision that our government of the people, by the people, for the people does not perish from the earth.

If you aren’t already registered to vote, I encourage you to register today and participate in the great American experiment of Democracy.