MADISON, Wis. - Labor and community leaders here said today that the "Voter ID" bill the Senate approved today and that was passed last week by the state Assembly is nothing more than blatant voter suppression.
Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said, "Not satisfied with attacking the collective bargaining rights of public employees, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators have set their sights on voting rights with a phony voter ID bill."
He said the legislation is driven by "raw political power, an attempt to block the recall of unpopular GOP senators and to suppress turnout among constituencies who may tend to vote Democratic." Neuenfeldt said the bill "does not address any problem of voter fraud - a problem which itself is totally manufactured."
Technically, the law would not, when signed by the governor, take full effect until next spring. Republicans still plan to use it, however, to intimidate and suppress votes in the upcoming recall elctions against Republican senators.
Republican leaders of the state's election agency have already said they can carry out a "soft implementation" of voter ID to "train" election workers on July 12, the expected date of the recall vote. Such a "soft implementation" would involve asking people to present and questioning them about their driver's licenses, state picture IDS, immigration and naturalization papers and tribal identification documents, among other things.
Union leaders also charge that the bill is an attempt to improve Republican chances to carry Wisconsin in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama carried the state in 2008.
Local newspapers in Wisconsin have joined the fight against the bill. The Wausau Daily Herald editorialized: "The case for a voter ID law would be different if there were reason to believe that widespread voter fraud were corrupting Wisconsin's elections. There isn't. There is no data to back up the notion that widespread fraud exists here."
The legislation, approved now by both Republican-controlled legislative chambers, will make it much more difficult for many Wisconsinites to exercise their right to vote. It includes the most restrictive voter identification requirement in the country.
Ironically, the bill also costs an estimated $7.5 million at a time when Republicans claim their attacks on unions were necessitated by the state's horrible financial straits. According to state Rep. Jennifer Silling, a Democrat from La Crosse, "This bill will not prevent fraud or the recent election mismanagement errors by a Republican county official that we have seen. As we continue to make drastic cuts to our school, libraries, health programs and public safety services, the Voter Supression Bill will force deeper cuts with no real benefit."
Voting rights advocates note that there are large numbers of people who do not have the state-issued photo ID the bill requires. According to a recent University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study, those without state-issued photo ID who would need to obtain one under the new Voter ID bill include:
* 23 percent of Wisconsinites over the age of 65.
* 17 percent of white men and women.
* 55 percent of African American males and 49 percent of African American women.
* 46 percent of Hispanic men and 53 percent of Hispanic women.
* 78 percent of African American males age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24.
Opposition to the bill is being expressed by a variety of organizations.
The Wisconsin League of Women Voters said the bill is an "expensive proposal that would create barriers to voting for thousands of citizens in an effort to fix a problem that does not exist."
The Interfaith Council of Milwaukee called the photo ID requirement "an unnecessary impediment to many low-income people along with the elderly or disabled people who live in their own homes. And the restrictions it places on the use of college IDs for voting would unfairly disenfranchise many students."