In Wisconsin, the 2012 election gets under way this week. Early absentee voting begins Wednesday, October 17, and voting rights activists will turn their full attention to nonpartisan Get Out The Vote work, including phone banks urging people to avoid the Election Day crush by voting early in their local municipal building.
At the same time, billboards warning that voter fraud is a felony have gone up in 85 locations around Milwaukee, the latest in a long series of efforts to intimidate and discourage voter registration and participation. The billboards — along with changes to residency requirements, efforts to impose strict photo IDs, and the purging of voter rolls — are among the voter suppression activities that civil rights activists have been fighting back against. The Leadership Conference Education Fund has produced a short video highlighting the activists and groups working to protect the right to vote in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Colorado.
In 2008, Wisconsin had one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country – nearly 70 percent. Nationally, the 2008 electorate was the most diverse ever. But in this election cycle, politicians in Wisconsin joined others across the country in passing restrictive voter ID laws and other efforts to discourage participation by students, people of color, and other targeted groups of voters. Wisconsin’s voter ID law was blocked by the courts, but other anti-voting efforts continue.
Earlier this year, Wisconsin’s recall election was targeted by True the Vote and other conservative groups who organized “voting integrity” operations that critics say are meant to harass and intimidate voters in targeted communities. Thanks to intensive voter participation efforts by groups like the League of Young Voters, those efforts failed to deter young voters and African Americans, who turned out in high numbers during the recall election earlier this year.
True the Vote is part of a larger campaign to flood swing states with conservative activists prepared to challenge individuals at polling places. The New York Times reported that True the Vote’s campaign in Wisconsin is grounded in mythical tales of buses full of foreigners or Native Americans or people from Chicago or Detroit pulling up to registration stations.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund has worked closely with the League of Young Voters, One Wisconsin, the United Council, Voces de la Frontera – Youth Empowered in the Struggle, and Rebuild the Dream over the past year to challenge anti-voting laws and to help students mobilize to overcome new regulations that are designed to make it harder to vote. Those same allies are coming together this week for a training and strategy-sharing session on mobilizing voter participation in the November election.
Visit Election Protection to learn more about voting in Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, and other states — and find out how you can protect your right to participate freely in fair elections.