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Wisconsin’s Election Laws: What Needs to Change

Issue of the Week

Nov. 8, 2016
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Voting is still underway as we go to press, so we don’t know yet who has won on Election Day. 

But we do know that we need to address the voting and election laws that are damaging our democracy in Wisconsin. Even if we do have very high levels of voter participation during this year’s elections, we need to ensure that our campaigns and voting processes are clean, fair and transparent. 

First up, Wisconsin’s terrible voter ID law. When Republicans passed it in 2011, it was among the most stringent in the country. In public, Republicans said it was to cut down on voter fraud. In private, they were aiming to put obstacles in the way of traditionally Democratic voters. They also knew, as they know now, that “widespread voter fraud” is a myth and their ID requirement does nothing to enhance the integrity of our elections. 

Thanks to the One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund’s lawsuit, the voter ID law isn’t as stringent as it was originally when the Republicans passed the legislation on a totally partisan vote, although IDs are still required to vote. We are very grateful to these groups for suing to make this happen. But we also need a comprehensive review of the law and how it worked in this election before repealing it completely or revamping it to making it fair for all voters, not just voters who support Republicans.

We also need to clean up the campaign finance laws Republicans passed in the last session. Corporations should not be able to contribute to campaigns—period. Nor should candidates be able to coordinate with dark money groups that can take in unlimited, anonymous money to swing elections. And the new partisan elections and ethics boards should be shut down, if not completely reformed. All of these laws invite corruption and tarnish Wisconsin’s reputation for good, clean, transparent government. 

Wisconsin also needs to address our gerrymandered legislative map. A federal court is reviewing our current map, which state Republicans drew in secret to benefit themselves. We’ll wait to hear what the courts say about this particular map or whether we need a nonpartisan panel to draw up our next legislative map after the 2020 U.S. Census, but we do know that the partisan composition of the state Legislature should reflect the will of the people—not the shenanigans cooked up by unethical legislators. If Democrats receive more votes on Election Day, it only makes sense that there should be more Democrats in the Legislature. Instead, the current map allows Republicans to remain in the majority even when they receive fewer votes than their Democratic peers. 

On the federal level, we need a U.S. Supreme Court that is willing to admit it made a mistake when it decided Citizens United in 2010. Hopefully, the justices will see the damage their decision caused on elections throughout the country. The voices of individual voters should not be drowned out by corporate interests in a democracy. Corporations are not people, period.

No matter what happened this Election Day, let’s make sure that, going forward, our government reflects the will of the people—not merely the will of those in power.

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