Sunday, March 16, 2014

The numbers show why WisGOP is suppressing early voting

The Wisconsin GOP's recent bills attempting to limit early voting hours and other methods of voter suppression is scummy enough on the surface (seriously, how can someone oppose the Constitutional right to vote and look themselves in the mirror?). The hypocrisy inherent in these bills were further showcased when One Wisconsin Now released voting records showing that 15 of 17 GOP Senators that voted to restrict early voting had themselves voted early in recent years. I understand that the GOP's 21st Century motto is "Our rules don't apply to us," but it's still a shameless thing to do.

But Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee went into great detail to also show the math behind these voter suppression acts, and to no surprise, it makes it a lot tougher for people in urban (and Democratic-leaning) areas of Wisconsin to vote early than people in smaller and often (Republican-leaning) areas. What's doubly interesting about this is that Murphy mentions that red-voting suburban Milwaukee is more likely to take advantage of early voting than the blue cities of Milwaukee and Madison, probably because it's already easier for them to do so.
If you were concerned about making sure everyone in the state has a chance to vote, you might want to look at the quaint city of Delafield in Waukesha County, for a fine example. For the 2012 presidential election, it had just 4,975 registered voters. It has one place where voters who want to vote early can do so, and 26.4 percent of those voters, or 1,159 people, appeared in person to do so. There were no reports of any problems for these voters.

Compare this to the city of Milwaukee, which had 66 times more registered voters than Delafield, with a total of 328,202 such voters. You might think Milwaukee would have far more polling places where voters who wanted to vote early could do so, but you would be wrong. By state law, all early voters must appear at one place (the downtown municipal building) to vote early. And they must get there within a limited period of time: in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers cut back the early-voting period from three weeks, including three weekends, to two weeks, including one weekend.

That meant there were often long lines and delays for Milwaukee citizens who wished to vote early. Not surprisingly, the percentage of voters in Milwaukee who showed up to vote early was far lower — less than half the rate — than in Delafield. Just 12.6 percent of registered voters in Milwaukee voted in person early.

This is not an anomaly. State-wide, 16.7 percent of voters showed up to vote early in the 2012 presidential election, according to figures from the Government Accountability Board. Typically the percentage was higher in suburbs and small towns and lower in the state’s big cities. The percent showing up to vote early, according to GAB statistics, was 34.5 percent in Whitefish Bay, 28.2 percent in Menasha, 26.5 percent in Brookfield, 26 percent in Port Washington, 25.8 percent in Oconomowoc and 25.3 percent in New Berlin — all much higher than Milwaukee’s 12.6 percent or Madison’s 12.5 percent.
Since the Cities of Milwaukee and Madison have a helluva lot more people than any red-voting municipality does, but each place gets only one spot to have their early voting, this clearly shifts the advantage to the red-voting places if each place gets the same amount of hours to vote early. Murphy quotes a remarkable stat from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett that states if early voting is limited to 45 hours a week (as it is under the current bill)
...given the number of people voting early in [the Waukesha County Village of] Big Bend in 2012, they would have had 47 minutes per person to vote. In Milwaukee you would have a person voting every nine seconds.
Of course, in a large November ballot, you won't be able to vote every nine seconds, which means it becomes a lot more likely that people will be pushed into voting on Election Day, whether they want to or not. And that means much larger lines on Election Day in blue areas, if everything else is left the same. And when Election Day isn't a national holiday where people get the day off to vote at their leisure (ridiculous in its own right), that means some people may be forced to choose between work and voting, or other necessities being forsaken in order to have to wait in line to vote.

It's also worth giving a look to see if there is a similar disparity of access on Election Day, and the state of Wisconsin has an interesting data set that shows numerous population statistics for every Wisconsin ward as of the 2010 redistricting, including voting-age population. At first glance, it appears there's a bit of a disparity, as several wards in the Cities of Milwaukee and Madison have voting-age populations between 2,500 and 3,500, and wards in the blue cities of Racine and Kenosha are often between 1,500 and 2,500. By comparison, most small cities and rural towns have voting-age population below 1,000 per ward, so that would seem to make longer lines also be more likely in those blue areas. That being said, I'm going to hesitate to say a bit say that's an absolute, as many wards are combined into one voting area in both the city and out in the country, and that changes based on the community, so it's not a definite disparity, but I would say it makes it possible.

Certainly when you combine the higher voters-per-ward likelihood in cities with the Wisconsin GOP's efforts to restrict early voting in those places, it seems that it would likely lead to longer lines and less access for urban people in the Dem-voting cities than in the suburban and rural areas of the state. This makes for higher opportunity costs to vote when a person lives in a large city in Wisconsin, which to me is a very good basis for a lawsuit (after all, Brown v. Board of Education wasn't voted down because of discrimination of "separate but equal", but because separate but equal clearly led to different levels of access and different outcomes).

So a look at the numbers backs up the gut feeling of "this is partisan bullshit." The fact that these GOP bills would make it easier for the areas that have recently been more likely to vote Republican is not a coincidence, and they should pay a price for trying to rig fair elections in this manner.

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