The nice lady behind the table wonders if I might have an ID card I can show her. She's only asking, not demanding. She's certainly not requiring. Requiring starts next year. I show her my ID card.
Now the nice lady wants my signature in a big logbook. She seems a bit more insistent on this one: without a signature, she won't give me the little slip of paper that I can exchange for a ballot at another table. I want the little slip of paper. Getting a ballot is the reason I'm here, in the middle-school gymnasium in Milwaukee, on a Tuesday morning in July.
It's Recall Days in Wisconsin!
Here in the Badger State, we're still sorting out the wreckage of the great budget-cutting, union-stripping, teacher-firing, tax-break-giving takeover of the government by Scott Walker and his GOP loyalists, not to mention the protests that filled the Capitol grounds in Madison week after week last winter. Six Republican state senators are facing recall elections for lining up behind Walker's agenda. Three Democrats, meanwhile, are facing recalls for fleeing the state into neighboring Illinois to prevent a quorum and slow the GOP juggernaut down. There are lots of unhappy people on both sides of the great divide. So lots more voting. Lots more small-"d" democracy, right?
Maybe so. Maybe no.
More rules, certainly -- already in effect, or in the pipeline. Next year, only certain kinds of ID cards will be valid. Residency requirements will be more than doubled and will demand more documentation. Same-day registration? Harder to do.
Some suspicious types have noticed that the types of people most likely to be shut out by the new rules -- college students, renters, first-time voters, young people, poor people -- tend not to vote for Republicans. They tend to vote for the other guys -- when they're allowed to vote, that is. That's what some suspicious types have noticed.
"It never even crossed our minds!" the Republicans insist. These new rules, they say, are there to serve one purpose and one purpose only: to protect "the integrity of the voting process." Wisconsin Republicans, you see -- and, amazingly, this is equally true in other states where Republicans are now in charge -- are suddenly very concerned about protecting "the integrity of the voting process." The last thing they want is anyone casting a ballot who isn't eligible to cast a ballot. Never mind that there's virtually no evidence that this is actually happening, in Wisconsin or elsewhere. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
And if the price of keeping some vague handful of fraudulent voters out of the voting booth -- new restrictions -- is onerous enough, and confusing enough, to discourage thousands of other people from registering or voting, well, it's all about (you guessed it) protecting "the integrity of the voting process."
Funny thing about the ballot I'm holding, though: there are two names on it. One of them is the Democrat who mounted the challenge to our Republican state senator. And the other one is... a fake.
That's right. The second name on the ballot -- a person claiming to be a Democrat -- is actually a Republican. A local Republican activist. Republican Party leaders put her on the ballot to force a primary, to delay the actual recall election, to give vulnerable Republican incumbents an extra month to raise big bucks and campaign, to hope that the anger subsides.
And it's not just in my district. Everywhere that Wisconsin Republicans are facing recalls, fake Democrats were on the ballot. An extra round of elections -- sham elections -- in each of those districts. An estimated half-million taxpayer dollars in extra administrative costs flushed down the toilet so that Republicans can try to hang on to power. Each of the fake Democrats lost, but that wasn't the point. Mission accomplished anyway.
Tell me again about that integrity thing?
In describing new voter restrictions now in effect, or in the pipeline, for Wisconsin voters, I mistakenly included a provision that was not in the bill as enacted. Contrary to what I wrote, although same-day registration provisions have been tightened in Wisconsin, same-day voter registration will remain in effect. This column has been amended to reflect that correction.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.
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