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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Last Chance to Vote?

I get to vote today. I don't really see it as a duty -- although I believe it is -- but as a privilege. I get to vote today.

I confess that I'm still torn on my choice for mayor here in Madison. Between Paul Soglin and Dave Cieslewicz, I'm having a hard time imagining myself disappointed with an outcome -- which may be bad news for incumbent Mayor Dave. The Capital Times endorses Soglin, Wisconsin State Journal endorses Cieslewicz. That alone may be enough to finally seal the deal for me -- when in doubt, go with TCT.

But you don't care about that. There's only one reason for anyone outside this state and this city to give a crap about this particular election -- the state Supreme Court race between JoAnne Kloppenburg and David Prosser. There's more than just Scott Walker's union-buster at stake here -- conservatives hold a one seat majority on the court -- but also the fact that you get to vote. Like the union-buster, a voter ID bill (still in the works at this point) is headed for the state's highest court. This is an absolute guarantee. In other words, if Wisconsinites don't vote in this election, they may find it harder to vote in the next.


If passed, Wisconsin's voter ID bill would be the most restrictive in the nation. Voters would be required to provide one of only three forms of ID. Not even passports would be accepted -- or student IDs. Since most students don't bother to get a license because they don't need (or can't afford) cars, this would severely limit students' ability to vote. Further, the law requires that the ID list your current address, so people who move often -- like students -- would be required to get a new ID every time they changed addresses.

If you doubt that the bill is a move to suppress the student vote, keep in mind that the Republican legislature has resisted adding student IDs to the list of accepted cards and has likewise resisted the pointless address requirement. In their defense, the GOP will only say that college IDs increase the potential for voter fraud, without explaining exactly why they believe that. They just say it and it's so.

Also consider that there's no evidence that voter fraud has ever been so widespread that it's thrown an election. Sure, there's a case here and there, but no one is "stealing elections" through voter fraud and no one -- not even the bill's most passionate backers -- can explain why Wisconsin of all places needs such a draconian bill. Or even a bill at all. It's meant to suppress the vote and backers are barely hiding that fact.

But requiring people to buy something in order to exercise their right to vote may represent a poll tax. Especially when other forms of ID are acceptable for identification in all other cases. You can use a student ID to buy beer or cash checks or at a new job, but you can't use it to vote because... Well, just because, OK?

In other words, a legal challenge is a certainty, as is a turn before the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin.

The court's current majority -- to which incumbent Prosser belongs -- is ideological, not impartial. They'll vote the same way the legislature votes. Because as much as candidates argue that the Supreme Court isn't a political office, it is. You can't put candidates before the voters and claim otherwise. People are going to vote for the justices who they believe will go the way they want them to, just as they do with every other elected office. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is a nonpartisan, unpolitical office in pretense only. If the Koch brothers are dumping millions into this race -- and they are -- it's not because they want an impartial judge to rule over their cases. You don't spend that kind of money because you want your day in court to be a crap shoot. They're buying outcomes. The money is politically motivated because this is a political office. They see it that way and so should you.

So, if you're like me and like it when you get to vote, vote today. If you're outside Wisconsin, keep your fingers crossed. This election may decide whether we get to vote the next time and whether the state goes blue again in 2012 or red forever.

Remember the old saying, "If voting changed anything, they'd stop letting you do it." The fact that the Republican Party wants to stop letting certain people vote tells you all you need to know about how powerful it is.


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