Ruthelle Frank is an 87-year-old resident of Wisconsin who had voted in every election since 1948 and served on her local village board for nearly two decades. In October 2011, she found out that she needed to obtain, for the first time in her life, an ID card in order to go on voting in Wisconsin. The process she endured, which she laid out for The Guardian three years later, can best be described as stupefyingly insane.
She's hardly alone. Draconian voter ID laws shepherded into existence by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) have put the legal votes of an estimated 300,000 residents of the state in jeopardy ahead of Tuesday's primary. As you might expect, these restrictions fall most heavily on some specific groups: African-Americans, veterans, the elderly, students and the working poor. But to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, their disenfranchisement, and the public outcry it has induced, is not worth a tinker's damn.
Oh, for sure. It's just "whining," this whole not having a legal remedy to getting one's vote stolen. And it's especially déclassé, this "whining," because the turnout in this particular primary election is slated to be so high. I'm not sure if Scarborough truly understands how voting actually works. It doesn't occur to him that maybe you could have especially high voter turnout and an especially high rate of stolen votes simultaneously. It's also not clear how these voters will get their votes back if they cease all "whining."
It's sufficient to say that Scarborough does not know what he's talking about, an evergreen news story if there ever was. Because if he spent even three minutes exploring this matter on Google (or had whoever does that at MSNBC do it for him), he'd learn all sorts of interesting things about the state of voter disenfranchisement in Wisconsin.
Aside from hearing the stories of other Wisconsin residents who were thrown into the same Kafkaesque nightmare as Frank, he'd learn that the state officials tasked with explaining how to cast a vote in this new electoral regime don't seem to be able to do so. He'd learn that the voter ID law has left a public education campaign that the state was required by law to embark upon as an unfunded mandate. He'd learn that conservative Judge Richard A. Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, among other complaints, says that the law is definitely a form of poll tax, as the Los Angeles Times reported:
Then there's the argument that getting a photo ID is easy and cheap, and therefore that people without them must not care enough about voting to bother. The three-judge panel wrote that obtaining a photo ID merely requires people "to scrounge up a birth certificate and stand in line at the office that issues driver's licenses." Posner replies that he himself "has never seen his birth certificate and does not know how he would go about 'scrounging' it up." Posner appends a sheaf of documents handed to an applicant seeking a photo ID for whom no birth certificate could be found in state records. It ran to 12 pages.
As for its supposedly negligible cost, "that's an easy assumption for federal judges to make, since we are given photo IDs by court security free of charge. And we have upper-middle-class salaries. Not everyone is so fortunate." He cites a study placing the expense of obtaining documentation at $75 to $175 -- which even when adjusted for inflation is far higher than "the $1.50 poll tax outlawed by the 24th amendment in 1964."
Maybe Scarborough could watch his own network's reporting?
That Wisconsin's voter restrictions prevent predominantly poor and minority citizens from doing do is the reason the voter restrictions exist in the first place. But voter turnout is high and as long as Scarborough's affluent white peers are counted, the rest is just whining.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.