David Hovde: Republicans threaten voting access

6:15 PM, Mar. 15, 2013  |  Comments

Over the years, Republicans have given a tremendous volume of lip service to concepts such as freedom, independence and liberty - supporting them in theory, if not in practice.

Though it sometimes seems that their support for democratic ideals and institutions was the strongest and most passionate when it was directed toward people, organizations and activities in other countries, Republicans still wrap themselves in the rhetoric of democracy and patriotism here at home all too often.

So a recent proposal by Rep. Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Saukville, might have taken some by surprise.

Late last month, Stroebel introduced a bill in the state Assembly that would limit the number of hours and days that voters can cast in-person absentee ballots. It would prohibit clerks from opening local facilities early, late or on weekends to accommodate voters who want to cast their votes before election day.


The way Stroebel sees it, according to spokesman John Soper, having "disparities for in-person absentee voting ... is not fair. His focus is on equality in the system." Stroebel said his bill will provide voters in smaller communities the same access to in-person absentee voting as those in larger communities.

That is, his bill will restrict absentee voting opportunities consistently and limit the voting rights of all voters equally, not just those in smaller communities.

That doesn't sound like democracy to me.

It doesn't sound like it either to Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, a Kenosha Democrat. He characterized the bill as simply another "anti-democracy measure" proposed by Republicans.

Recall that, late last year, some Republicans called for eliminating election-day voter registration. The proposal didn't go anywhere - not because Republicans were concerned about restricting voting, but because clerks complained that it would significantly increase election costs. Then there's the controversial voter ID law passed by Republicans in 2011. This solution-in-search-of-a-problem legislation is still tied up in the courts.

It's no wonder that Barca asked, "Why is it Republicans feel there are too many people in Wisconsin who are voting?"

Of course, it's not just in Wisconsin that Republicans feel there are too many people voting.

As a recent editorial in the San Angelo, Texas, Standard-Times noted, certain Republican-run jurisdictions across the country tried tactics leading up to and during November's election that were designed to hold down voting - minority voting, in particular: unnecessarily strict voter-ID laws, restrictions on early voting, bans on same-day voter registration, or understaffed or inconveniently located polling places that led to ridiculously long lines.

Texas has voting issues of its own. In the last eight national elections, Texas has never ranked higher than 45th in turnout. In 2010, it dropped to 50th.

Texas has a past of poll taxes and rigorous registration rules that led to generations of voter frustration and apathy, according to Luis Figueroa, general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

But if voter turnout isn't great in Texas, it's apparently not the result of this legacy or recent voter ID legislation - at least not according to Republicans. State Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said the problem is exaggerated. Sort of like voter fraud, I guess.

"The biggest issue we have is that people just don't seem to care," said state senator Larry Taylor, a supporter of numerous Republican-backed "ballot integrity" bills.

Turnout was relatively high in Florida, but, as detailed in reporting by the Palm Beach Post, voters there endured election chaos and marathon voting lines last November, largely thanks to reduced early voting hours, purges of voter roles and voter registration restrictions championed by Republican legislators.

In that same story, several prominent Florida Republicans admitted that the election law changes were geared toward suppressing minority and Democratic votes.

Former state Republican officials told Post reporters that Republican consultants pushed the new measures, including those targeting early voting that were heralded by Gov. Rick Scott.

And now, Shelby County, Ala., has challenged the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, retaining William Consovoy to argue its case. Consovoy specializes in cases aimed at making voting more difficult. Just last year, for example, he argued on behalf of Republican officials in Florida and Ohio; each state was seeking to significantly reduce the days allowed for early voting.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge to the Voting Rights Act.

Of course, this is the same Voting Rights Act that was overwhelmingly reauthorized by Congress as recently as 2006. In fact, as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner played a very important role in the reauthorization effort. Indeed, to his credit both then and now, Sensenbrenner has supported the law as both necessary and effective.

So it's truly incredible that during a recent U.S. Supreme Court session, Justice Antonin Scalia uttered this already infamous declaration about the Voting Rights Act: "I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It's been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes."

The very audible gasps from observers in the courtroom clearly didn't faze Scalia as he went on to say that the high court should gut the heart of the Voting Right Act, because Congress won't:

"I don't think there is anything to be gained by any senator to vote against continuation of this act; and I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless - unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. That's the concern that those of us who have some questions about this statute have. It's a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress."

Read that last sentence again, slowly and carefully.

That's what voters are up against. That's what all of us should simply be against.

- David Hovde is an Appleton resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. He can be reached at pcletters@postcrescent.com

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