Tag Archives: James Peterson

Wisconsin GOP leaders break their own law to suppress black vote

And the voter suppression continues.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration vowed to an appeals court that it would remove obstacles making it difficult for citizens to vote, even if those citizens lacked the usual required documentation, such as birth certificates. To prove it, the administration enacted a rule requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to mail a free photo ID within six business days to anyone who goes to a DMV office to set the registration process.

But with only a month left before a close presidential election, Walker’s transportation officials are nowhere near making good on that pledge, according to an independent investigation. U.S. District Judge James Peterson, who originated the decision leading to the administration’s new rule, has launched an aggressive investigation to learn why.

The Nation and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel both reported that the advocacy group Vote Riders sent voting-rights advocates to 10 area DMV offices, where they requested photo IDs.

Most of them were not given the correct information, and at least one was flatly turned down by a clerk who said birth certificates are required, even though signs on the premises stated otherwise. Only three out of the 10 offices abided by the rules.

This DMV chicanery isn’t the first time the state’s Republican leadership has been caught flouting election law to prevent citizens from registering. Shortly after Walker and the GOP took over state government, they began enacting a series of increasingly strict laws to keep suspected Democratic voters — blacks, Latinos, students, the elderly — away from the polls. Within months of Walker’s taking office, DMV clerks were told not to offer voter IDs for free, even though the law required them to do so.

Walker also began shutting down DMV offices and eliminating staff. He curtailed the operating hours of many DMVs, making it impossible for poor people to register without taking off work.

Walker said the cuts were needed to save money. But Republicans’ efforts to disenfranchise black voters have cost the state considerably. Walker’s onslaught of controversial voter-suppression laws has prompted one costly trial after another. The legal bills are likely to have drained millions of taxpayer dollars from state coffers.

Voting in Wisconsin is already hard. Only six other states — Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Kansas — have restrictions as prohibitive as Wisconsin. Yet, as we examined in our Sept. 22 issue, there is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem here or anywhere else.

There’s ample evidence — including revealing statements from backers of ID laws — that the GOP’s voting “reform” campaign seeks to keep African Americans and other likely Democratic voters away from the polls.

We applaud Judge Peterson’s commitment to get to the bottom of this current scandal. We’re counting on him to ensure there are consequences for the Walker administration’s latest despicable attack on democracy.

Voting rights is a bipartisan issue, and we urge Republican readers to join with Democrats and tell officials to stop trying to win elections by cheating. Remind them that it’s possible to win by providing responsible government to all Wisconsin citizens, no matter what their skin color or political affiliation.

They should try it sometime.

‘ID lady’ fights to get photo IDs for Wisconsin voters

Wearing a black T-shirt, with large block letters on one side saying “Ask Me” and “About Voter ID” on the other, Molly McGrath moved back to her native state of Wisconsin last year with the mission of helping people get the photo IDs needed to vote.

They call her the “ID Lady.”

McGrath navigates homeless people through the voter registration form, helps people new to Wisconsin get an in-state driver’s license, arranges free cab rides to the DMV and even personally drives people to where they can get photo IDs.

She also helps explain the complex and seemingly ever-changing election laws in Wisconsin. This will be the first presidential election where voters are required to show photo IDs, a law passed by Republicans that has survived a series of court challenges.

“There’s a tremendous amount of unawareness and confusion about the law,” McGrath said on a late summer morning inside a church near the state Capitol where she was helping a steady stream of people register. “You can’t help but think, is this confusion a bug or part of the design?”

Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who swept into power in 2011 quickly passed a law requiring photo IDs  at the polls, arguing it was needed to combat fraud despite scant evidence of any widespread voting irregularities.

They didn’t stop there.

They also restricted early voting hours to the two weeks before an election with no weekend hours and a limit of one location per municipality. That was a particular blow to Milwaukee and Madison, the state’s two largest and most Democratic cities, which had expansive early voting.

Liberals fought the changes and in July won big when a federal court struck down more than a dozen Wisconsin election laws championed by Walker and Republicans. The judge said limits on early voting times and locations “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.”

“I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose,” Judge James Peterson said.

Madison and Milwaukee moved quickly to begin early voting as soon as Monday.

And while he didn’t strike down the photo ID law, Peterson did require the state’s DMV to quickly issue credentials to anyone trying to obtain free photo IDs but lacking the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, needed to get it. A federal appeals court has put on hold a separate ruling that would have allowed those without IDs to sign affidavits at the polls attesting to their identity.

Both sides are bracing for a close election, where turnout — or the lack of acceptable photo IDs for a large number of voters — could tip the scales.

In a 2014 ruling striking down the voter ID law, which was later overturned, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman estimated that 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin lacked a required ID. For context, Walker won re-election in 2014 by about 137,000 votes and Ron Johnson defeated Russ Feingold in the 2010 Senate race by just over 105,000 votes.

And in 2000 and 2004 the presidential race was decided by the tiniest of margins _ about 6,000 votes in 2000 and 11,000 in 2004.

The latest Marquette University Law School poll showed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running about even in the state. It also showed the hotly contested Senate race between incumbent Johnson and Feingold to be within the margin of error.

That makes every vote all the more crucial. The state Elections Commission is trying to spread the word about the law with radio and TV public service announcements, online display and video ads, pre-show advertising at movie theaters, bus ads and Facebook ads.

Campaigns, political parties and advocates like VoteRiders are also trying to spread the word to people like Duane Dahl. He didn’t have a photo ID until McGrath came along. She works with VoteRiders, which helps low-income and people of color get IDs and registered to vote.

Dahl, who has been homeless at times in Madison, said he was confused about the laws, what he needed to get an ID, and where to go. But in March he got his ID and voted in primaries in April and August.

“I got lucky,” Dahl said. “Other people have had a huge struggle trying to get ID.”

Matthew Kurtz, 45, is homeless and hasn’t voted since he was 18. After helping him register, McGrath reminded him he’ll need his ID on Election Day to actually cast a ballot.

Dahl said he’ll pay more attention to politics now that he can actually have a say in who gets elected.

“If you don’t vote you don’t have a right to be crying or complaining,” Dahl said.

Vietnam veteran Mike Battles, 70, said he’s voted in “every election since Johnson.” He has an ID and is registered to vote, but he recently moved. Battles sought McGrath’s help in getting his registration changed so he can vote at his new address.

Battles said he was motivated to vote for Clinton.

“I don’t want to see Trump elected because the middle class and lower will suffer,” he said.

While McGrath is passionate about her work she tries to remain nonpartisan. When another potential voter tells McGrath “I’m scared of Trump” she laughs it off.

“I don’t care who you vote for,” she says, “as long as you vote.”