Gerrymandering Isn’t the Only Ailment Plaguing Democracy in Wisconsin

A variety of laws are tamping down voter participation in the Badger State

With the Supreme Court’s decision this morning to put off a ruling in Gill v. Whitford, a major challenge to partisan redistricting, there’s a renewed focus on voting and voting laws in Wisconsin, where I live and vote.

The Gill case is centered around the constitutionality of gerrymandering based on political parties, a process where politicians choose their voters for partisan political gain, but this is not the only issue at play when it comes to voting rights in Wisconsin.

As a Wisconsin voter, I also deal with voter identification laws that keep thousands of my fellow citizens from participating in our democracy and a culture of nonchalance that demotivates voting. This is not to say that voting in Wisconsin is doomed; the state allows qualified citizens to register and vote on the same day, so it’s clear that the state is making some effort to encourage voting, but there is a long way to go before voting in Wisconsin will be fair for all.

Wisconsin is among 34 states that require voters to produce an ID before voting. On Election Day, I’ve had to run home from the polls to grab my passport to prove who I am. I’m lucky in that I had time to get my ID and have an ID at all, but not everyone is so fortunate.

Voter ID requirements are meant to protect against voter fraud but evidence in a previous Wisconsin case, Frank v. Walker, showed 300,000 citizens don’t have any form of identification. Individuals kept from the polls were disproportionately minorities, low-income, and Democrats.

Both partisan gerrymandering and voter ID’s have influenced another issue that I have seen: the idea that voting doesn’t matter. Some of my classmates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been told by Statistics professors that their votes are wasted. This discouraging message from professors in positions of authority has kept my friends out of the voting booth.

It’s also irrational and in some cases frightening. The winner of a state legislative race last fall in Newport News, VA had to be determined in a random drawing after the vote count showed each candidate with 11,608 votes. The ultimate winner, Republican David Yancey, gave the GOP control of the House, with 51 of 100 seats.

Despite how important every vote can be, I can see voters becoming discouraged by democratic institutions. Partisan gerrymandering and identification requirements have led to pessimism in Wisconsin politics, and Wisconsin has a long way to go before we have a representative government.

Lily Oberstein is a Common Cause intern.