A Wisconsin judge on Monday struck down the state’s voter identification law less than a week after another judge temporarily stopped it, complicating plans for state officials who want the law in place for the upcoming April 3 presidential primary. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued the permanent injunction, finding the law unconstitutional because it would abridge the right to vote.
I’m madly in love with this injunction, granted, but reading the language the judge chooses here, I’m really struck by how conservatives have managed to change the whole way we talk about voting. We’ve somehow wandered very, very far from the idea that voting is a right.
From the Wisconsin judge, yesterday (pdf):
Article III is unambiguous, and means exactly what it says. It creates both necessary and sufficient requirements for qualified voters. Every United States citizen 18 years of age or older who resides in an election district in Wisconsin is a qualified elector in that district, unless excluded by duly enacted laws barring certain convicted felons or adjudicated incompetents/partially incompetents. The government may not disqualify an elector who possesses those qualifications on the grounds that the voter does not satisfy additional statutorily created qualifications not contained in Article III, such as a photo ID.
Compare this next section to what we hear now from Republicans on voting:
As our Supreme Court stated 132 years ago: “The elector possessing the qualifications prescribed by the constitution is invested with the constitutional right to vote at any election in this state. For the orderly exercise of the right resulting from these qualifications it is admitted that the legislature must prescribe necessary regulations as to the places, mode and manner, and whatever else may be required to insure its full and free exercise. But this duty and right inherently imply that such regulations are to be subordinate to the enjoyment of the right, the exercise of which is regulated. The right must not be impaired by the regulation. It must be regulation purely, not destruction. If this were not an immutable
principle, elements essential to the right itself might be invaded, frittered away, or entirely exscinded, under the name or pretence of regulation, and thus would the natural order of things be subverted by making the principle subordinate to the accessory.
If the mode or method, or regulations, prescribed by law for such purpose, and to such end, deprive a fully qualified elector of his right to vote at an election, without his fault and against his will, and require of him what is impracticable or impossible, and make his right to vote depend upon a condition which he is unable to perform, they are as destructive of his constitutional right, and make the law itself as void, as if it directly and arbitrarily disfranchised him without any pretended cause or reason, or required of an elector qualifications additional to those named in the constitution. It would be attempting to do indirectly what no one would claim could be done directly.
…For that reason no right is more jealously guarded and protected by the departments of government under our constitutions, federal and state, than is the right of suffrage. It is a right which was enjoyed by the people before the adoption of the constitution and is one of the inherent rights which can be surrendered only by the people and subjected to limitation only by the fundamental law”
No right is more jealously protected by the departments of government! Wow. Sounds important. He’s not talking about the right to buy beer, obviously, so voting must be…different than buying beer, somehow.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers said that voting is not a right, but a privilege Wednesday evening,the Star Tribune reports. Zellers is not the first conservative to make that claim during the debate over voter ID which is heating up the Minnesota Legislature. Republicans and voter ID advocates have compared showing identification for voting to everything from cashing a check to boarding a plane to buying cigarettes.
“When you go to even a Burger King or a McDonalds and use your debit card, they’ll ask you to see your ID [to be] sure it’s you,” Zellers said “Should we have to do that when we vote, something that is one of the most sacred — I think it’s a privilege, it’s not a right. Everybody doesn’t get it because if you go to jail or if you commit some heinous crime your rights are taken away. This is a privilege.”
He backed off his statement a bit on Thursday evening: “I understand voting is a right in the Consitution,” Zellers said. “I misspoke. It’s not a privilege.”
Zellers statement mirrors one made by former Sen. Norm Coleman earlier this year at a tea party voter ID conference.
“Some places require an ID to cash a check at McDonald’s; if it’s good enough for McDonald’s it should be good enough for one of the greatest privileges that democracy affords, and that’s the right to vote,” said Coleman.
At the Minnesota Capitol, during hearing on voter ID last month, the right to vote has been compared to many things that are privileges.
“Maybe you can explain to me how we would know how many people were drinking underage if we never ID’d then,” Sen. Ray Vandeveer of Forest Lake said, noting that the same could be said about voting.
In his testimony, Minnesota Majority’s Dan McGrath compared the voting process to banking. “How fast do you think your bank accounts would empty if someone could access your account on the say-so of a friend?” he said, referencing Minnesota system of allowing neighbors to vouch for voters who don’t have IDs.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance’s Andy Cilek said voting with voter ID is the same as boarding an airplane. “I would argue this is no different than taking an airplane,” he said. “How many people would fly on an airplane if we didn’t make sure the people on that plane were who they said they were in the terminal at their destination?”
In their zeal to enact voter suppression laws, Republicans have managed to fundamentally change not only the way we talk about voting, but how we think about voting. It’s a real shame. They’ve already taken something from all of us, whether or not these laws survive court challenges, because they changed the way we talk and think about voting. That’s a loss. They made voting the equivalent of “cashing a check at McDonalds” by repeating false comparisons, over and over and over. We should not have let them get away with it.