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Friday, April 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Emily's Post: The Voter ID scam and debate over Mercury Players' The Last Supper

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The Great Voter Fraud Bogeyman

The current Republican Legislature badly wants to enact a Voter ID law requiring that anyone wishing the cast their ballot in a state election be required to show official identification first. Right now pre-registered individuals may simply walk in and state their name and address before voting.

Which is exactly how it should be.

Voter ID laws have a nasty habit of disenfranchising primarily minority, poor and elderly voters -- groups that don't traditionally carry ID either because they don't drive or can't afford to get one. Unsurprisingly, these demographics tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

Which is precisely why certain elements within the Republican Party have latched onto the specter of voter fraud -- they get to appear like watchdogs of the public good while turning away thousands of eligible voters who may not support their politics. I don't subscribe to a massive GOP conspiracy theory, but that doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist at all.

A study (PDF) conducted by three political science professors illustrates some of the dangerous consequences of restrictive voter ID laws: "...the findings go far to suggest that voter identification laws could immediately disenfranchise many Latino, Asian, and African American citizens."

Indiana in 2009 had its voter ID law struck down by the state supreme court for being unconstitutional. A study conducted of elections there in 2008 showed that the overwhelming majority of people who showed up at the polls without ID as required under the new law and were made to cast a provisional ballot, ultimately never had their votes counted at all.

And there is little to no evidence of the widespread voter fraud used as a bogeyman so often by proponents of these laws. Professor Lori Minnite, who's been studying the role of voter fraud in U.S. election for nearly a decade, points out that, "From 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That's 26 criminal voters."

Not exactly a tidal wave of a problem. In addition to the very real possibility of disenfranchisement at the polls, the Wisconsin law as currently written would likely cost the state millions of dollars to implement:

  • $50,160 estimated one-time costs for modifications to Department of Motor Vehicles systems to allow for IDs without photographs.

  • $2.3 million net loss of annual revenue for issuing free IDs to customers who previously paid fees.

  • $83,030 net annual cost increase for issuing IDs to new customers who obtain them because they are now eligible for free.

  • $11,210 ongoing annual cost increase to pay ID vendors for additional products issued to new customers.

The Government Accountability Board and Department of Transportation recently met and put together some excellent guidelines that would help ensure that, were the law to be enacted, disenfranchisement would be minimal or downright eliminated. "Make clear the purpose and legislative intent of the legislation; Ensure the most vulnerable (non-traditional) voters are not disenfranchised; Make photo IDs free and accessible to voters; Offer an alternative for Wisconsin residents who object to being photographed based on religious, historical or cultural grounds; Provide a sufficient amount of time between passage of the photo ID legislation and effective implementation data to accommodate training of local election officials and educating the public."

Somehow I doubt those efforts are far up on the list of priorities of the bill's main backers -- they'll probably point to the above associated costs as being too prohibitive, ignoring the bit where that would make the law itself excessively prohibitive -- but I'd love to be surprised.

Ultimately, I think voter ID laws are pointless distractions from the real issues facing the state and country right now. We should be focusing our time and effort on getting more people educated about the issues, registered and to the polls -- not on finding new ways to discourage and/or prevent them from voting at all.

The payoff

Remember back in December when then Democratic Majority Leader Russ Decker and Jeff Plale joined Republicans in voting down state employee contracts? And remember how there was some speculation that both men had done so in order to curry favor with the incoming Walker administration so they could get jobs within it?

Lookee lookee: Plale was recently awarded with a position "as administrator of the Division of State Facilities. Plale will be paid by taxpayers the handsome sum of $90,000, along with a highly lucrative set of fringe benefits."

This all after insisting back in December that he had "no prospects" with the administration (though he later admitted in an email that he had been actively seeking the post during the lame-duck session and vote).

Surprising? Not really. Lame and disappointing? Entirely.

On Art

I've been hemming and hawing for several days now about whether or not to directly address the comments and criticisms that have sprung up on the Isthmus review of The Last Supper, a play I happen to play a main role in that is running now in Madison.

There is, simply put, absolutely no way for me to speak to the subject without sounding defensive and subjective. I understand that, so will go into this knowing full well that some people may dismiss everything I have to say based on that fact alone. So be it. Do what you gotta do.

The debate about the content of the play -- wherein a group of liberal grad students begin inviting individuals with views they deem to be dangerous over for dinner, then poison them and bury them in the back yard -- has actually been really fascinating. It got more so when part-time local blogger Ann Althouse threw up a link to the review on her site along with a quote from the very first comment left on it. The comments sections there and on the Isthmus review provide for some worthwhile debate and discussion (as well as some straight-up inflammatory rhetoric, but thems the breaks). If you can spare the time to get through them all, it's worth the read.

What role does art play in society and politics? Does it affect change, or provoke thought, and is one more important than the other? Would you see this show if the tables were turned and it was a group of righty grad students killing people with viewpoints extreme to them? Must art take into account unintentional timing around major tragedies, especially when we're talking dark comedy, or is it then more appropriate than ever? Can a play or movie be worthwhile if the main character(s) commits a heinous act?

I've had a fantastic time working with the cast and crew at Mercury Players Theatre on this production, and am excited that both playwright Dan Rosen and original movie cast member Nora Dunn will be in town to participate in talkbacks after the shows this Friday and Saturday. I think it's a timely and necessary discussion to be having. And I stand behind the work we've done -- our play speaks for itself.

That's all I'll say on that here. Mostly I just wanted to direct you all toward the debate, so you could decide for yourselves.

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