Wisconsin state Sen. Dale Schultz has taken a bold stand against his own party’s relentless attacks on voting rights that include punitive voter identification provisions that affect the poor, minorities and the handicapped who tend to vote Democrat.
In an appearance on the Devil’s Advocate radio show (The Mic/92.1 FM) last week, Schultz told hosts Mike Crute and Dominic Salvia that the Republicans’ support for a series of election law changes was indefensible, according to Madison.com.
“I am not willing to defend them anymore,” he explained when Salvia asked why Republicans sought to limit the number of voting hours a municipality could offer. “I’m just not and I’m embarrassed by this.”
The retiring Schultz argued there were no legitimate justifications for some of the election reforms pushed by Republicans.
“It’s all predicated on some belief there is a massive fraud or irregularities, something my colleagues have been hot on the trail for three years and have failed miserably at demonstrating,” he said.
Schultz has served as a legislator from southwestern Wisconsin since 1983, including two stints as Senate majority leader in 2003 and 2005.
Schultz, considered an iconoclast, did not mince any words in criticizing his party saying they were guided by the GOP’s greater agenda to gain electoral advantage by depressing voter turnout.
“It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics,” Schultz said. “We should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.”
Schultz’ disgust is in sharp contrast to Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker who told reporters in March that he considers voter identification laws the most "pressing" election-related issue in the state. And he will direct the state legislature to hold a special session to modify a law that has been blocked by the courts since 2011, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.
Gov. Walker wants the law in place before the November midterm elections.
States with voter ID laws
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) there are currently 30 states requiring voters to present identification to vote in federal, state and local elections.
Barriers to voting affect approximately 21 million Americans who do not have a government-issued photo identification. These are among the least advantaged including the poor, low income, minorities, and the elderly.
Voter ID laws can deny the right to vote to thousands of registered voters just because they don’t have the documents to obtain a government-issued photo ID. Laws like this impede the fundamental American right to vote.
Voter fraud is miniscule
The Brennan Center for Justice is one of many organizations that have investigated voter fraud claims. They found in-person voter fraud is “nearly non-existent and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators."
Moreover their report "The Truth About Voter Fraud" showed that most allegations of fraud turned out to be baseless. The allegations centered on election irregularities, rather than voter misconduct.
Schultz, who must be a student of history, reminded us that championing voting rights during Reconstruction and later during the Civil Rights Era are hallmarks of American democracy. He voiced the urgency of stopping the madness of compromising voter freedoms that is being peddled by some Republicans by recalling one of the great Republican presidents.
“In the spirit of the champion of the 1957 Voting Rights Act (also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1957), I have been trying to send a message that we are not encouraging voting, we are not making voting easier in any way, shape or form with these bills,” he explained. “Back in 1957 with the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans were doing that. And that makes me sad, frankly.”
By their own admission, some Republicans have either unwittingly or on purpose revealed the motivations of the GOP to suppress voting rights. Phyllis Schlafly a self-identified conservative activist said North Carolina’s new restrictive voting law would reduce “the number of days allowed for early voting and is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game.”
North Carolina is a battleground state, and North Carolina’s new voting law has been criticized for its restricting on access. Statements made by conservatives like Schlafly reveal the nefarious reasoning behind voter ID laws, which is to suppress Democratic voters.
Voter fraud is not acceptable in our elections but it should not be mythologized as a method to marginalize or inhibit voter participation, nor should it be used as a political tool to favor one political party or another. Punitive measures that make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to participate in our democracy are not what voting rights advocates have fought for since the end of the Civil War.