Photo: Wisconsin State Journal
On the heels of President Obama’s decisive win in Wisconsin—by over 200,000 votes (nearly 7-percentage points)—Republican Governor, Scott Walker has now signaled his desire to implement new restrictions on voting, by eliminating that state’s historic first; their same-day voter registration law.
In 1971, Wisconsin—long heralded as the birthplace of the modern American progressive movement—became the first state to enact its popular same-day registration, which has allowed voters unfettered access to the polls and enabled them to register either as new voters or to reflect a new address and voting precinct right up to the very day of the election.
In 2008, Wisconsin enjoyed the second highest turnout of any state in the nation (72.4 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot), due largely to the fact the Badger State law allows residents who aren’t registered or have recently moved to register at the polls. That year, approximately 460,000 people used Election Day Registration, 15 percent of all Wisconsinites who cast a ballot.
Today there are eleven states which permit same-day registration and—most recently—an attempt by the Republican legislature and Governor in Maine to eliminate same-day registration was resoundingly rejected by the voters there by a 2-1 margin in a statewide referendum. Despite Republican efforts, Maine citizens were determined to keep rights extended by their 40-year-old law intact!
It is clear that the Republicans in Wisconsin were shocked by the size—not only of President Obama’s margin of victory in the Presidential Race (in GOP V.P. candidate, Paul Ryan’s home state)—but also by the relatively easy defeat of former Wisconsin Governor, Tommy Thompson, by Democrat Tammy Baldwin (by nearly the same wide margin) for election to the U.S. Senate.
Walker, however, may feel emboldened by the fact that the political control of the Wisconsin legislature has—again—changed hands (the third time in the past year), as Republicans regained control of the senate 17-15 in the 2012 General Election after last year’s recall election had created a deadlock there. Speaking to an audience at the Reagan Library last Friday, Governor Walker signaled his intent, saying,
“States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13 hour days and who in most cases are retirees,” Walker said. “It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done.“
While Republicans have been citing just about every reason under the Sun – to blame their electoral losses on (except their own far-right conservative agenda and party platform) – it is clear that they fully intend to maintain their focus on voter suppression to minimize voter turnout, as their best electoral strategy to win elections.
This is particularly true in normally swing states or in normally Democratic-leaning states—like Wisconsin—where they have managed to elect majority Republican legislatures and gerrymander congressional districts to exert control far beyond what their numbers would appear to justify.
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