By Dara Lindenbaum, Associate Counsel for the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The recent gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin provides a disturbing example of what too many voters in an array of states are likely to face at the polls in November. At the polls, voters were confused about whether they could vote under the new laws, faced under-resourced polling locations, and received deceptive information about whether they could vote.
As always, the Election Protection Coalition was available to assist voters. The coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is the nation’s largest non-partisan voter protection coalition. Throughout the day, trained volunteers answered the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline and monitored polling locations across Wisconsin. The hotline received 1,526 calls on Election Day in addition to the 524 received in the preceding, resulting in over 2,000 calls into the Hotline.
We thought that most of the calls into the Hotline would be surrounding the law requiring voters to present government-issued photo ID, which was passed in 2011. The law was not in effect on Election Day due to two separate court injunctions, and although there were instances of poll workers improperly asking voters to present photo ID before voting, the majority of the calls were due to recent changes to the law surrounding the requirements to establish residency in the state of Wisconsin. The new law expanded the amount of time to establish residency from 10 to 28 days and repealed a safeguard that allowed a voter who lacked proof of residency to vote if another voter affirmed their residency. Most disturbing was the fact that these new laws were implemented without an effective voter education campaign to alert voters to the changes to their longstanding and long relied-upon Election Day Registration (EDR) procedures.