By Adam Zens
Dear Mr. Schimel,
I am writing to ask you to reconsider your priorities. Recently, I had read in the news that you had decided to continue the legal appeal process for Wisconsin’s Voter ID law, even after a Wisconsin judge had struck down the new Voter ID law. I know that this has been a tangled, back-and-forth process where one court will uphold and then another deny the Constitutionality of this law. This must be tough and taxing on the resources of your office.
What I’m wondering is why you are spending taxpayer dollars attempting to defend and impose this new Voter ID law on Wisconsinites, many of whom may already feel disenfranchised or marginalized. After all, just getting out to the polls is an effort of itself which many don’t even bother to do whether due to having a busy schedule or maybe even because they believe that the system is rigged against them and it doesn’t matter who they vote for. Either way, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to add any additional barriers to people getting out to exercise their right to vote.
You’ve probably heard a time or two the one where someone says, “Well, gee, you have to present an I.D. to go on an airplane or make certain purchases.” I’m pretty familiar with that line myself. The analogy between boarding a plan and exercising a fundamental civic duty and right eventually breaks down upon closer inspection, however. Riding an airplane is a fairly costly venture and not everyone can afford that. But voting is free and doesn’t cost anything besides being a tax-paying citizen of one’s democracy. Furthermore, the more that we treat voting as an act of consumption or purchase, the more it demeans the participatory act in electing one’s representative.
For some people, it may not be as easy as you would think to obtain an ID. Our own story is an interesting one. We did not have the correct “birth documents” that the DMV required for our children to obtain a State-issued ID. As our kids were approaching voting age, this became a concern. Were our children going to be able to vote at age 18, even though the DMV did not accept our current documents. It became a bit of a hardship for us. The documentation that we had was, in fact, valid at one point, but some bureaucrat at Vital Records had changed the policy so that this documentation was no longer acceptable. That was frustrating, to say the least! To top it off, one bureaucrat at Vital Records referred to me over the telephone as “you people.”…”You people”?… Apparently, he already had some stereotype about who I was. Years later, as I was placing phone calls to Vital Records, all that I kept receiving was the answering machine from the bureaucrat in charge of our case. When I would leave a message for this person, they would refuse to call me back. I could go on and on about what we went through to obtain the documents that the DMV would accept, in fact, I could probably write an entire book about the experience. I will say that going through that situation has made me substantially more receptive to those with stories from Milwaukee or any other area in Wisconsin who were having trouble getting the required ID for voting. In a related story, I had talked with an elderly man who had worked as a poll worker in northwest Wisconsin who would become ineligible to vote with his current ID. He had no idea why Wisconsin was trying to pass a new Voter ID law since voter fraud is so miniscule of a problem to begin with.
As Wilson, et al., summarize in their findings of the relationship between racial imagery and the perceived need to regulate voter identity more restrictively, a negative bias against the color of one’s skin appears to exist in society, such that:
The data come from a survey experiment embedded in the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (N = 1,436) randomizing the race of a voter and poll worker shown to respondents (African American voter and poll worker, white voter and poll worker, or no image). The results show that white respondents who saw an image of an African American voter and poll worker expressed greater support for voter ID laws than those in the no image condition, even after controlling for the significant effects of racial resentment and political ideology. Exposure to an image of a white voter and poll worker did not produce a similar effect. The findings provide new evidence that public opinion about voter ID laws is racialized.
Now, admittedly, this study is demonstrating correlation, not causation. Still, isn’t that significant that when people who see an African-American voting, that observation seems to stir up a legislative urge to put tighter measures into place. That’s simply amazing that in the 21st century we still have this sort of thing going on. We really need to ask ourselves the question, “Should we spend our effort in putting up legislative walls that will reinforce existing stereotypes against African-Americans or, radical idea coming, what if we were to spend our energy tearing down those false expectations and biases by removing those walls?”
 Wilson, David C., Paul R. Brewer, and Phoebe Theodora Rosenbluth. 2014. “Racial imagery and support for voter ID laws,” Race and Social Problems 6 (4): 365-71.
[Note: This is part one of a two-part series of a slightly edited letter being sent to Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Brad Schimel, who was elected in 2014 after his predecessor, J.B. Van Hollen, did not seek a third-term as Attorney General.]
Is the war that Warren Buffet talks about between the 1% and the 99%, is that war primarily a matter of racial bias and prejudice or is it a concern of socio-economic classes fighting it out with the 99% in the losing category? Interestingly enough, Reverend Bern argues that it is both! His book, Occupying America, is more than a historical chronicle of the Occupy Wall Street and the We are the 99% movements; it’s a manifesto of sorts about how those who are disenfranchised do not have to take it lying down. Skillfully, Occupying America shows that both “race” and “socio-economic” class can be used by the ultra-rich to alienate the “have-nots” even further from the real issues that matter.
If you enjoy sci-fi literature and TV programs like the Twilight Zone, then you may enjoy the spiritual story of Beyr Reyes entitled Renewable Energy. You might not recognize the protagonist, Agent Kane, at first, but as his official report of Commander Abaddon and Supreme Leader Sook unfolds, you would probably start identifying the characters. Shortly, we will make available a listening excerpt on our Locust & Honey Facebook page or one can find the excerpt of the audio version here.
Finally, if you have a philosophical bent of mind, you might want to delve into The Problem of Induction by J.M. Kuczynski. This newly created audio book analyzes the original problem of how forecasting the reliability of certain inductively observed patterns does not, by itself, lead to a certain outlook. In fact, we cannot determine that the future will resemble the past in terms of our observations of nature. Thus, scientists do not know that current inductive patterns will continue into the future. The author has an interesting way to approach the problem which may cover at least one aspect of the historic problem uncovered by Scottish philosopher, David Hume.