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Scott Walker and the GOP Reveal Depth of Their Voter-Exclusion Plan

A new Department of Transportation memo reveals Wisconsin Republicans intend to make the newly imposed voter ID process as onerous as possible for people seeking IDs.

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive  In These Times weekly updates.

 A new Department of Transportation memo reveals how thoroughly Wisconsin Republicans intend to make the newly imposed voter ID process—fiercely opposed by labor—as onerous and expensive as possible for the low-income people seeking the IDs.

Wisconsin's fundamental pillars of democracy have been under sustained pounding ever since Gov. Scott Walker, with a right-wing playbook from the American Legislative Exchange Council tucked under his arm and cash from the billionaire Koch brothers bulging out of his suit coat, was sworn into office back in January.

Within five weeks, Walker had dropped what he privately called “the bomb” on public employees by unleashing legislation known as Act 10, which makes their unions impossible to operate and sustain. The law was approved on a 4-3 vote by the Supreme Court after a fracas in which right-wing Justice David Prosser put his hands on the throat of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley,  earning him the nickname “Madison strangler.” Now in effect, Act 10 facilitates the flow of income from public employees to corporations and the investor class in the form of endless new tax breaks.

Clearly, Walker and his allies both in Wisconsin and nationally are intent on constructing a plutocracy that redistributes income and wealth upward to the richest 1 percent and the corporations they control. They have made great progress: The richest 1 percent now  vacuums up the same share of national income—about 24 percent—as they did back in 1928. But of course you can’t have a secure plutocracy alongside a thriving democracy; as long as the majority of citizens enjoy full democratic rights, they pose a mortal threat to the privileges of the select few.

So the most basic right in a democracy—the right for citizens to vote for candidates of their choice—fell under the persistent jackhammers of Republicans claiming to be worried about voter-impersonation fraud, although not a single case was brought forward. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence that 4 million to 5 million voters did not cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election because they encountered registration problems or failed to receive absentee ballots,  according to a study by experts in voting. An additional 2 million to 4 million registered voters—or 1 percent to 2 percent of the eligible electorate—were 'discouraged' from voting due to administrative hassles, like long lines and voter identification requirements.

Thus, the Wisconsin Republicans, acting on the basis of an unproven threat, ignored an authoritative study showing the very real problem of people being obstructed from voting. In total, the study estimated that up to 9 million Americans were unfairly denied the right to vote because of bureaucratic barriers. But the Wisconsin Republicans then proceeded to create as many barriers as they could.

Common Cause State Director Jay Heck has  labeled the new Wisconsin law as “the most restrictive, blatantly partisan and ill-conceived voter identification legislation in the nation.” The new law will make voting much harder for those who lack driver’s licenses, which includes 23 percent of elderly Wisconsinites, 59 percent of Latina women and 78 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 24. These people will need to acquire state-issued photo identification to vote. Existing photo IDs for students fail to meet the new standard. The Republicans responded with righteous indignation, claiming that the new law allows all eligible citizens to obtain free photo IDs at Department of Transportation offices.

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