This week I was sworn in as a witness for the first time in my life.
I had agreed to testify in a federal trial challenging a series of new election laws in Wisconsin. Why me? From my perspective as a voter registration volunteer and poll worker, I bore witness to the fact that these laws have deterred qualified citizens from registering and voting.
I was asked in court, "Do you think the new voting laws enacted over the past several years have improved the integrity of Wisconsin elections?" I thought hard for a minute and answered: "If by 'integrity' you mean, 'making sure every eligible voter is able to register and vote'... no, the opposite is true. The laws are instead damaging the integrity of our elections."
Supporters claim the Wisconsin's Voter ID requirement protects election integrity. They claim it prevents voter fraud yet there is no evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin.
Maybe there is a different motivation for the new voter identification law.
On the first day of the trial, Todd Allbaugh, chief of staff to former state Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) testified. He described a 2011 closed-door meeting he attended, saying Republican lawmakers were "giddy" because they saw the voter identification law as an opportunity to drive down Democratic turnout at the polls.
Although he did not see fraud as a reality, Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) has justified the voter ID requirement saying it would give the public more confidence in election results.
I do not have more confidence in election results.
Although many of the new laws being challenged in federal court have been justified as preventing voter fraud, they seem to have more to do with reducing opportunities for some Wisconsinites to register and vote.
Here are a few examples. Cutting early voting from 30 days before an election to 12 days. Eliminating early voting on weeknights and weekends. Restricting early voting to one location per municipality, no matter what the population.
In my testimony, I told the judge that voter registration changes have made it harder and harder for me to register voters. I told him the deluge of new laws have confused poll workers and voters. I described one voter, registered in our poll book, who presented me with a perfectly valid driver's license from another state. He had already proved his address when he registered, and I could see he was not impersonating a voter because the photo obviously identified him. Although it seems arbitrary to me, unfortunately an out of state license is not an approved form of voter identification.
I told the judge that this voter probably heard the soundbite offered by Republican lawmakers, "All you need is the same type of ID you use for buying booze, getting into a bar, and getting prescriptions." I had to tell an eligible voter that his ID was good for all that but not good enough for voting.
I told the judge that the atmosphere at the polls has changed. In an unfortunate and unnecessary twist on "Innocent until proven guilty," now every voter is presumed guilty of being ineligible until proven eligible.