Janesville57.4°

New law erects new barriers to voting

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Sen. Tim Cullen
June 6, 2011

The Legislature has passed two huge bait-and-switch bills. The first was touted as filling and end-of-fiscal-year budget shortfall, but it also contained sweeping measures to take away public employee rights.


The second was touted as a simple photo ID requirement to prevent voting fraud, but it included sweeping changes to voting procedures.


The Senate debated this bill for nearly 11 hours over three days. Republicans maintained that the new requirements are neither confusing nor burdensome and are needed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats argued that the requirements will discourage many people from voting.


I voted against the bill because it takes Wisconsin backwards. The United States has a history of expanding the right to vote. When George Washington was elected president, voters had to be white, male, property owners and belong to the proper church. In the 230 years since then, we’ve removed barriers to voting.


Women first started organizing for the right to vote in 1848, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th amendment was ratified. African-Americans got the right to vote in 1870, but many states created barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests. It wasn’t until 95 years later that the Voting Rights Act prohibited such barriers.


In 1970, at a time when many of our young people were fighting and dying in Vietnam, we lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.


Then we introduced absentee voting for people who are homebound, hospitalized, in nursing homes or out of town on Election Day. Later we said you no longer have to give a reason; anyone can vote absentee.


We enacted same-day registration, so you don’t have to make one trip to City Hall to register and another to the polling place to vote.


Now we come to 2011, and Wisconsin’s new voting law is absolutely on the wrong side of history. If Wisconsin has a voting problem today, it’s that not enough people vote. In the April 5 election, people were astounded that 38 percent of voting-age adults went to the polls—less than half of eligible voters cast ballots, and we call it astounding.


There are ways we can increase voter turnout. Instead, this law is calculated to make the voting process more cumbersome and confusing. And when people encounter obstacle after obstacle, they’re more likely to give up trying.


--Currently a person must live at a residence for 10 days before using that address to vote. The bill increases that to 28 days.


--Previously, you could vote absentee up until the Monday before the election. The new law changes it to the Friday before the election.


--The new law reduces the absentee voting period from 30 to 10 days.


--It requires voters to sign a poll list after voting.


--It eliminates the ability of voters to vote straight Republican tickets or straight Democratic tickets. Instead, voters must go down the ballot and vote for each race individually.


I support measures to encourage more people to vote, not to erect new obstacles.


Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, represents most of Rock County and the Whitewater area in the state Senate. He can be reached at Sen.Cullen@legis.wi.gov, by phone at (608) 754-0947, and by mail at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882.

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