On Tuesday, Feb. 18, Appleton celebrated an election day, narrowing the field of candidates for mayor of Appleton and for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Last week, many Lawrentians jumped at the chance to engage in local politics, but found that voter ID laws impeded their ability to do so.
While this obstacle exists, it is not a reason to give up. You should vote. As students, voting is one of the only ways to make our voices heard — and our voices should be making a much louder sound. According to thebestcolleges.org, young people (millenials and younger) make up roughly half of the electorate, but much less than half of people who actually vote. During the 2016 presidential election, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 were only 19% of the total voting population. Young people should be a major political force — but when so many of us fail to vote, our concerns will never be reflected by our representatives.
Even if you are convinced your candidate will not win, the margin of victory — the amount by which a specific candidate wins an election — often plays a critical role in how the winning candidate behaves in office, according to an article by the Huffington Post. Because of this, even if your candidate loses, your voice and opinions still influence the winner’s policies.
However, understanding the importance of voting does not make it easy. Voting is hard — often much harder than it should be. Voter ID laws are one reason for this difficulty. As Lawrence students, we feel the consequences of these laws. In order for those of us without Wisconsin driver’s licenses to vote in local elections, we must each obtain a voter ID separate from our school IDs. While the university offers these voter IDs at no cost, many were disappointed to see the office issuing them close early on election day. Those who did not get their voter IDs in advance may have been prevented from voting.
Talking about how this small-scale problem made it harder for you to vote can feel embarrassingly trivial. But the everyday inconveniences of getting a voter ID are not insignificant. In fact, voter ID laws are often meant to make voting harder through such inconveniences. While voter IDs purport to solve the problem of in-person voting fraud, this problem hardly exists: a 2014 study found only “31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast” since 2000. The real purpose of voter ID laws is to be “part of an ongoing strategy to roll back decades of progress on voting rights,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU’s fact sheet on voter ID legislation reports that voters who do not have an accepted form of voter ID are “disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Such voters more frequently have difficulty obtaining ID, because they cannot afford or cannot obtain the underlying documents that are a prerequisite to obtaining a government-issued photo ID card.” Voter ID laws are also disproportionately enforced — studies have found that minority voters are more frequently questioned about ID than white voters are. Voter ID laws are inherently discriminatory.
However, as it stands in Wisconsin, you must have a voter ID to vote. On Tuesday, Apr. 7, another election will be held in Appleton. This election will determine Appleton’s mayor and Wisconsin’s Supreme Court judge, as well as serving as the U.S. presidential primary. Lawrentians should vote in this election. In order to do this, they must take extra precaution to get their voter IDs before this date. If you have a Wisconsin driver’s license or U.S. passport, these can serve as voter IDs. Otherwise, ask for a Lawrence-issued voter ID at the Warch info desk.
We should also advocate for the eradication of these senseless and discriminatory voter ID laws. Ironically, getting your voter ID is a first step to doing so: you must first be able to vote in order to choose candidates who will stand up against voter ID laws.