The current majority party controlling the Wisconsin legislative, executive and judicial branches has just enacted a law, which restricts voting opportunities in each municipality in the state to no more than one early voting location for each town, village, or city – regardless of size! The new law also further reduces the number of hours and days allowed for early voting – and entirely eliminates opportunities to vote on a weekend.
The difference in the election experience between, for example, the City of Milwaukee and the County of Ozaukee, which are neighbors, approximately the same size in square miles, illustrates how outrageously unfair this new state law is in practice. The City of Milwaukee has a population of over half a million people, and is permitted only one early voting site by this law. Ozaukee County, a ‘collar county’ just north of Milwaukee, has a total population of less than 100,000 people, and is permitted, by this legislation, more than a dozen early voting locations, which are liberally distributed over a total land area that is about the same size as the City of Milwaukee.
No one has ever had to wait in line to vote early in Ozaukee County, and voters are never delayed more than a few minutes to cast their vote on Election Day – or any day – in Ozaukee County.
In contrast, even before this new state law restricting municipalities from providing early voting opportunities was enacted, voters in the City of Milwaukee have always had to stand in line to vote – sometimes outside in inclement weather, often in lines lasting several hours – whether on election day or at the one downtown City Hall location that is permitted for early voting.
The only way that many working class people are actually – not merely theoretically – able to vote is by doing so during early voting opportunities provided by municipalities which are during hours and on days other than “normal” weekday, 8-to-5 hours. There are years of history of long lines of citizens waiting for early voting opportunities in Milwaukee at the one and only permitted location. Further drastic restrictions of those opportunities in urban – as well as in rural areas – violates the civil voting rights of those citizens, and politically disadvantages large urban municipalities and low population rural areas, while disproportionately advantaging suburban counties and small, exclusive ‘collar’ municipalities.
Increased early voting opportunities (early AM, late PM, and weekend hours) can and should be provided to ALL citizens in the state by state funded payments to municipalities that need it for that specific purpose, especially low-budget small rural towns and villages. The cost for this ‘democracy subsidy’ would likely be a lot less than the projected cost of implementing all the voting restriction legislation that the current state legislature has enacted.
Very large population municipalities should not be limited to only one early voting site for everyone in the entire city, for reasons which are obvious to anyone with an eye to see and a brain to think. A good rule of thumb would be that there should be at least one early voting location open in each municipality for every 100,000 residents, and if there is more than one site, they should be located for convenient access by the people. The principles that the legislature should invariably adhere to, when and if it addresses local voting regulations and administration, are to increase, not restrict, voting opportunities, and to enhance and equalize the opportunity for ALL citizens to vote.
The new Wisconsin law restricting early voting opportunities is a blatant violation of both the clause prohibiting states from abridging the privileges and immunities of citizens, and the clause prohibiting states from denying to any person the equal protection of the laws, contained in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This law also appears to violate Section 1 of Article I of the Wisconsin Constitution which guarantees the inherent and equal rights of the people, and the suffrage provisions of Article III.
“An Election Tale of Two Cities” compares early voting experiences in two neighboring Wisconsin cities before the new restrictive legislation was proposed and enacted by the legislature