I tend not to write editorials about federal and state legislation. My focus is on local issues. But I fear Republican lawmakers’ actions—and inactions—on voting rights undermine our democracy. And I see that as a very local issue.
At the federal level, Republicans are hesitant to enact universal voting laws. Wisconsin Republicans hang onto voting restrictions that throw roadblocks up for segments of our populace at the state level.
And I cannot stay quiet about this topic, which seems to be an obsession with Republicans across the country who have bought into the false narrative that there was widespread voter fraud in the November 2020 election.
According to a story by the Associated Press:
“Wisconsin Republicans have already approved a review of the 2020 election by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and hired retired police officers to investigate unfounded reports of widespread voter fraud. Trump’s defeat was upheld following recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties and in numerous state and federal lawsuits.”
So instead of coming up with better policies that solve problems and earn the trust of their constituents, Republicans have busied themselves with undermining the integrity of our elections. Their fixation on limiting how people vote and failing to enact federal voting standards will degrade our democracy and foster further division.
Voting: a right or a privilege?
Voting has somehow crossed over into the realm of being a privilege and not a right for some Republicans.
Even as I am writing this, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Assembly just passed a series of laws Tuesday night that:
- Prohibit election officials from filling in the addresses of witnesses on absentee ballot envelopes if they were missing, reversing a practice the state Elections Commission supported in 2016.
- Require elderly and disabled voters to produce IDs to vote absentee in many cases.
- Require ordinary voters to fill out more paperwork when they vote absentee: a form to apply for an absentee ballot and one to certify that they filled out the ballot.
- Bar election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters, as the state Elections Commission did last year with bipartisan support.
- Prohibit political groups from ballot harvesting when they collect absentee ballots to deliver them to election officials. While this did happen in a Republican ballot collection scheme in North Carolina in 2018, it never happened in Wisconsin.
Proponents of the Bills say they just want a level playing field, but Wisconsin Assembly Representative Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) disagreed with their intent.
“The changes Republicans pushed through the Assembly today will make our elections less accurate, less secure, and less accessible for Wisconsin voters. We should be working to ensure that every voter has an equal opportunity to participate in building a brighter future in Wisconsin.”
Governor Tony Evers vowed to veto the bills, which would prevent them from being enacted. It’s ridiculous that so much energy was wasted on picking apart the very system that got them elected in the first place.
Just take a moment and let that sink in.
Need for stronger Voting Rights at the federal level
Free and fair elections should be the goal. Making ballots and dropboxes accessible to everyone ensures people will have the opportunity to vote. But Republicans seem determined to undermine that very thing from happening because they have failed to see the value of making those ballots and dropboxes accessible as part of every American’s right to vote.
And yet, Wisconsin isn’t alone in the push for voter suppression laws.
Between Jan. 1 and May 14, 2021, at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws restricting voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute.
“More restrictions on the vote are likely to become law, as roughly one-third of legislatures are still in session. Indeed, at least 61 bills with restrictive provisions are moving through 18 state legislatures. More specifically, 31 have passed at least one chamber, while another 30 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote). Overall, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 restrictive bills in 48 states in the 2021 legislative sessions,” according to a Brennan Center for Justice report.
Why further federal voting laws should be enacted
Our right to vote should never be negotiable, disposable, or inaccessible.
It’s important to note that the title of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 laws includes the word right, not privilege. And yet Republicans act like they are the ones that get to grant the privilege to vote. But the right to vote is a birthright of citizenship.
Still, states don’t even agree on who should get to vote.
If someone convicted of a felony lived in Vermont, Maine, or the District of Columbia, they would have been able to vote even while incarcerated. If they lived in New Jersey, they could have voted upon their release from prison. If they lived in Virginia, the governor of that state would have to have issued a pardon. And if they lived in Florida, they would vote if they had paid their fines and fees after their prison release. But only if they could afford to pay it. The average amount owed there totaled $1,000.
See how complicated this gets? But it shouldn’t be.
Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, all citizens’ right to vote has been protected against racial discrimination or their ability to read English. And yet, here we are changing the rules in the name of equity, making people jump through hoops to get access to a ballot, vote absentee, and have their vote counted in an accessible place.
That is not Democracy. It will never be a Democracy, not at this rate.
We have continued to tolerate a patchwork of voting laws that do not represent our core value of the United States, that voting comes with citizenship.
How people vote and when they get to vote are decisions left up to states. There is no universal policy on this. But this is a problem the federal government should step in to solve, ensuring that state legislators are not the deciders of the very rules that elect them. The Constitution grants that right, not a person.