hearts and minds

December 14, 2016

“Proof of Residence” Requirements Prove only an Intent to Obstruct the Right to Vote

I was an Election Protection volunteer on General Election Day, 2016, trained by, and representing the NAACP, working at one polling location in the “inner city” of Milwaukee, Wisconsin from the time voting started in the morning until after voting ended that night. I was able to observe every individual entering the premises, and the experience of every person who came there to vote that day. And every person who I observed leaving the premises without voting (despite their motivation and intention to vote) did so for one and only one reason. That single reason was their inability to produce an acceptable so-called “proof of residence” document.

I am familiar with the flurry of recent election “reform” legislation that has been enacted in recent years in Wisconsin. Most of the public attention has been focused on the effect on voter turnout of the few acceptable forms of photo ID that a person must now present to “prove” their identity. It has been amply demonstrated that many, many thousands of bona fide citizens do not have the required photo ID, and there can be no doubt that the photo ID requirement discourages, impedes, or prevents many of them from even attempting to vote on election day. But I was surprised to observe that it was the requirement for certain individuals to provide so-called “proof of residence” documents, which tripped up all the prospective voters who actually showed up at that particular polling location to vote on election day, but were unable to do so.

The first thing we need to realize is that, when you get right down to it, NONE of the documents (together with the complicated qualifying and disqualifying clauses) that are acceptable in Wisconsin as “proof of residence” PROVE that anyone actually resides anywhere! A real estate speculator, or an owner of multiple domiciles, for example, can easily obtain many such documents for places that are not legitimately his residence for voting purposes. Some people (like me) who have a current drivers license, which carries the address that I claim to be my residence for voting purposes, never have to produce a separate “proof of residence” document in order to vote. On the other hand, anyone who moves, to find or follow a job, for example, or even from one apartment to another in the same building, or many of the people living together in a crowded household or a large family, may find it difficult to obtain even one of the listed acceptable documents. “Proof of residence” requirements in Wisconsin are obstacles that people in certain demographic classifications must surmount, while they present absolutely no difficulty whatsoever for other people, in other demographic classifications. They are not actually “proof of residence” at all. They are nothing more than a selective impediment to exercising constitutionally protected voting rights.

My father (whose ancestors established – in the same year that Wisconsin became a state – the farm on which he lived) had no “proof of residence”, which was acceptable to the politicians who created this legislation. He no longer held the farm title, or paid the taxes or utility bills, or drove a car. He was living half of each year with one of his married sons in another state, and the other half of the year with me and my wife in Wisconsin, where he was born a century ago. For all of Wisconsin history, right up until these new voter suppression laws were enacted, I could have accompanied my father to the voting place on Election Day, and either of us could have sworn, under penalty of felony perjury, an affidavit that my father lived with us and thus was eligible to vote there. But – and here is the second thing that we all need to understand – such a sworn and binding affidavit – the most dependable evidence possible (other than proof of incarceration) of where a person actually lives – is no longer evidence which may legally be considered by election officials in today’s brave new world. It is now impermissible to use a citizen’s sworn and legally binding statement as evidence of where a person actually lives! The ONLY evidence that may be used to make that determination, for voting purposes, is certain non-binding piece of paper that government agencies, corporations, or other artificial legal entities issue, none of which actually prove where anyone lives.

A democratic republic is a government in which the people hold the ruling power, either directly or through their elected representatives. It was not until the 21st century that here in the United States of America, only an artificial legal entity may produce evidence that may be used by election officials to determine whether a person’s vote can be cast and counted. Sworn evidence from an actual citizen with directly pertinent knowledge can no longer even be considered! Such legislation could only be conceived of – let alone enacted – by partisan politicians who do not believe that the people should rule; by politicians who do not believe that the USA is a democratic republic. I say, dump those politicians and dump that law.

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