EDITORIAL: Voting is your right . . . or not

Americans talk about loving their democracy, but many of us are lazy about carrying out the fundamental responsibility of citizenship in a country committed to government by the people.

Almost half of Americans eligible to vote don’t bother to do it. The U.S. trails nearly three-fourths of the world’s democracies in voting, including, to name a few, Mexico, Canada, Greece, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Israel.

When roughly 45% of voting-age citizens forfeit the right to choose their government representatives, voter apathy leaves a democracy’s egalitarian principles more vulnerable to erosion than they would be with robust citizen involvement.

This has long been known, which is why increasing voter turnout was once an avidly pursued goal among citizen advocates and political leaders of all political persuasions. But now, in some political quarters of the U.S. at least, encouraging people to vote is a quaint concept that has been replaced by tactics aimed at discouraging voting in ways that could influence elections.

Wisconsin has seen a fair amount of what has come to be known as voter suppression, and a new effort in that vein came to light last week in a legal maneuver that could deny more than 200,000 state residents the right to vote in next year’s primary and general elections.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a lawyers’ organization that supports conservative causes, filed a complaint intended to force the state Elections Commission to revoke voting privileges of voters who have moved but have not updated their addresses within 30 days of being notified to do so.

As it should, the bipartisan commission is already dealing with the address updating issue. It mailed notices to 234,000 voters identified by the Electronic Registration Information Center, which is used by 29 states to audit voter lists, as possibly having moved. In June, the commission voted unanimously to give those voters until after the April 2021 election to avoid losing their voting right by correcting their addresses.

The commission is wise to take a cautious approach. In 2017, it removed thousands of registered voters from voting rolls based on suspected address irregularities. It turned out the commission had acted on inaccurate information, and many affected citizens had been wrongly made ineligible to vote. In the current address updating effort, allowing voters only 30 days to prove their residency would increase the likelihood of mistaken cancellation of voter eligibility.

The WILL complaint claims state law requires a 30-day cut-off, and the organization says it will sue if the Election Commission doesn’t comply.

The commission rejects the complaint, and points out that it is empowered by state law to make the rules for voter registration lists.

In any case, a 30-day deadline to avoid disenfranchisement would be needlessly harsh. Those affected by it, after all, are state residents who are not lazy about exercising their rights as citizens of a democracy and have registered to vote. It takes an outlandish stretch of imagination to see them as threat to election security because they have been tardy in reporting a new address.

Combating voter fraud is the standard rationale to justify measures designed to make voting more difficult, even though numerous investigations have found it exceedingly rare.

In 2017, President Trump ordered the creation of a commission to investigate voter fraud that he said resulted in millions of illegal votes for his opponent in the 2016 presidential election. He dissolved the commission a year later after it reported no evidence of fraud.

The most egregious election fraud in recent years was not committed by voters, but by a political operative in North Carolina who was indicted for overseeing a network of people who collected absentee ballots and completed them with votes for the Republican congressional candidate who won the election in 2018. Because of the fraud, the state Board of Elections ruled the election invalid.

Here is some context for the attempt in Wisconsin to force a 30-day cut-off of voting rights for residents who do not have current addresses in their voter registrations:

Younger and lower income voters, a demographic group that tends to favor Democratic candidates, are considered more likely than Republicans to be among the 234,000 voters listed as needing updated addresses.

With a 30-day cut-off, they would not be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Donald Trump won Wisconsin in the 2016 election by 23,000 votes.

If the Law and Liberty group prevails in forcing a draconian 30-day voting-rights cut-off, those affected should know they can attempt to recover their voting rights by presenting identification and residency documents to election officials at their polling place on election day.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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