Q&A: Wisconsin ID Law Will Suppress Youth, Minority Vote
Jonah Most, New America Media | July 14, 2011
Editor’s Note: On May 25, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed off on a new law, Assembly Bill 7, that requires Wisconsin voters to show photo identification at the polls. Critics of the law contend that this requirement will disenfranchise many youth and minority voters. New America Media’s Jonah Most spoke with Biko Baker, executive director of the League of Young Voters Education Fund, who is working on a campaign to help youth in Wisconsin obtain photo identification.
Jonah Most: What is Wisconsin’s AB 7 legislation, and why does it matter?
Biko Baker: The voter ID bill is something that recently passed through the Wisconsin State Legislature, requiring students to have an unexpired photo ID with an expiration date and a signature [in order to vote]. Non-students have to have a state-issued ID. My concern is that 50,000 young people of color in Wisconsin do not have the proper ID to vote. Young people of color have a right to have their voice heard.
JM: What does this law aim to achieve?
BB: The bill supposedly prevents voter fraud. However, one of the interesting things about it is that the U.S. Department of Justice did a study and went into Milwaukee and looked at all of the possible voter ID fraud [cases]. They only found 20 cases out of millions of ballots, and 11 of those were actually from felons who thought they [had the right to] vote.
I don’t believe that this bill has proven it will stop any fraudulent ballots. I think we would need a change if there were proof that our current system were broken, but it isn’t. In fact, Wisconsin had among the highest voter turnout in 2006 and 2008. I think the significance is that it isn’t actually about voter fraud, it’s about voter suppression. It will have the biggest impact on low-income communities and especially on people of color [and] I personally think it is meant to disenfranchise young voters.
JM: Who sponsored this legislation?
BB: It was a bi-partisan effort. Most people probably supported it. There had even been talks about it in the previous administration, so it’s not about partisan politics or Democratic or Republican candidates. But Wisconsin previously had some of the most progressive voter laws. Before, you could show up on the day of the election with a [utility] bill, with proof you’ve lived in the state at least ten days, and then go vote. So the tradition of Wisconsin is the exact opposite of this bill.
JM: Why do you believe this legislation will have a particular impact on young voters?
BB: Young people are transitory. They’re moving constantly [and] they don’t have steady jobs, so that is a huge impact. For people of color there are a lot of other issues, especially for poor people. There are barriers to getting a birth certificate, there is the fear of going to the DMV and getting arrested for past tickets, there are a lot of different layers. (Read more)