The “Mississippification” of Wisconsin. That phrase, coined by Democratic 12th District state Assemblyman Fred Kessler, got a laugh from the audience at the monthly Community Brainstorming Conference’s Forum held last Saturday at St. Matthew CME Church. But there’s nothing funny about the phrase’s meaning and the ramifications it conjures for voters in the community and the entire state of Wisconsin—and nation—in the upcoming 2012 elections. That point was made clear by a panel of city, county, state and national lawmakers, union leaders, city election officials and activists who spoke at the well-attended forum, providing information about Wisconsin’s new Voter ID law. The panel included state Eighth District Rep. Jocasta Zamarripa, Second Dist. Milwaukee County Sup. Nikiya Harris, Sheila Cochran, secretary-treasurer and COO of the Milwaukee County Labor Council AFL-CIO; Stephanie Finley, chair of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, Dr. Pam Malone, MATC; Milwaukee Sixth Dist. Ald. Milele Coggs, Eric Peterson, chief of staff for state Sen. Lena Taylor, who did not attend because of a prior commitment; and U.S. Cong. Gwen Moore. The panel said the Voter ID law makes Wisconsin—once one of the most participatory states in national elections—a state with some of the most restrictive voting requirements in the nation. Supporters of the law claim it will reduce significantly voter fraud. However, according to results from a two-year investigation by the state attorney general’s office, there were only 20 cases of potential fraud in the November 2008 election. There were nearly 3 million votes cast in the state in that election. In effect, the law will “shave” off 40% of the Black and Hispanic vote in the 2012 presidential election, quite possibly impacting negatively the reelection effort of President Barack Obama and other Democrats in Wisconsin and several other states that have or are trying to pass similar voting laws. The panelists claim the law has a negative impact on the city and county, which has a large number of students, people without driver’s licenses, seniors and low-income adults. The Voter ID law will disenfranchise thousands of voters, and suppress the vote, thus nullifying its overall power and influence in an election that led Kessler’s to coin the phrase: “Mississippification.” Under the new law, only three forms of identification will be accepted: a state issued drivers license or ID card, or a military ID. No longer would a bill with a current address be acceptable to vote. About 80% of state residents of voting age have a valid driver’s license. However, some 30% of all Milwaukee County voting-age adults do not have a valid drivers license. The bill is also a financial burden on the poor. In order to obtain a drivers license or state ID, many low-income residents would have to pay at least $20 to get a copy of their birth certificate. The working poor would have a difficult time getting time off from work to obtain an ID at a state Department of Motor Vehicles office, which have cut back on hours and have had to resort to furlough days, which closed certain office one day out of a week. Elderly voters would be put at a disadvantage. Many do not have transportation or are ailing to such a degree it would be impossible to get to the DMV to apply for an ID. Out-of-state college students can no longer use their school issued ID to vote. It may be difficult for them to obtain a copy of their birth certificate in order to get the required identification. Absentee voters must now submit a copy of their ID with their ballot, which won’t be opened until election day. If something is wrong with the absentee voters ID, he or she would have until 4 p.m. the next day to rectify the problem so their ballot is deemed valid. Panelists said while the law is bad, it is still the law and that concerned citizens must do everything they can to make sure their right to vote is respected.
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