News & Politics

GOP Voter Suppression Comes to Wisconsin

A politically timed lawsuit by the state’s Republican attorney general may create chaos at polling places on Nov. 4.
Partisan voter suppression efforts have many faces, but they all have one goal: suppressing your political opponent's voters.

In Wisconsin this past week, the Republican Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, filed a politically timed lawsuit that local election officials say will interfere with turnout for the presidential election on Nov. 4 and create a bureaucratic nightmare for election workers seeking to process a record number of new voter registrations before then. The AG's game plan is simple: create a bureaucratic nightmare to tie up the election machinery before Election Day and then create bottlenecks to confound voters on Election Day.

According to a Sept. 12 report by Steven Elbow at Madison.com, the Wisconsin AG filed suit this past Wednesday forcing election officials to use a tactic being employed by Republicans in other states -- notably Michigan, Kansas and Louisiana -- that involves removing people from voter rolls if the addresses on their voter registration forms does not match the address on their state driver's licenses. The rationale to purge would be based on the assumption that if the addresses did not match then the voter registration would be incorrect and therefore invalid.

Never mind that Wisconsin is among a handful of states where voters can register to vote on Election Day and ostensibly clear up or correct any registration information error at that time. The suit's goal is voter suppression, which would be accomplished by causing delays in voting when people show up on Election Day and are told they are not on voter rolls and then would have to go through the registration process, delaying them and holding up other voters in line behind them.

What's especially outrageous about this tactic in Wisconsin is that the very federal election law that makes this voter purging technique illegal in most states -- the National Voter Registration Act -- exempts Wisconsin from the NVRA's voter purging process because the state has Election Day Registration. In other words, because Wisconsin is among a handful of states with the most liberal, voter-friendly laws, its voters do not have the legal protections intended to stop voter suppression in other states.

Elbow's report on Madison.com quotes that city's clerk about the impact of the AG's suit.

"It will disenfranchise voters. That's what we're concerned about," City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl said. "We're working on plans to make sure we don't have long lines at the polls, make sure that the lines can move smoothly and quickly. If we throw this into the mix, then it is going to slow things down."

The Madison.com report reveals the Wisconsin AG is reading from a long-established GOP playbook, justifying 'ballot security' concerns under the banner of preventing voter fraud.
Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election, with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).