It is sad to watch so many politicians try to disenfranchise voters. Until today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was doing his best to avoid calling special elections to fill two legislative seats which became vacant when he appointed those legislators to state jobs. Despite a clear obligation to call special elections for both seats months ago, he only did so after 3 judges, including one on the Court of Appeals ordered him to call the special election by Noon today. Indeed, yesterday Court of Appeals Judge Paul F. Reilly issued a harsh decision in which he stated:
Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources,’ and the calling of the special elections are as the Governor acknowledges, his ‘obligation’ to follow.
While this should have been obvious to Governor Walker, his initial refusal to call a special election fits with his strategy to disempower voters by making voting more difficult, including reducing the time for early voting, and requiring voter ID at the polls. Curiously, however, Wisconsin still continues to make voting easier by allowing for same day voter registration at the polls. Less well known is a statutory requirement which requires City Clerks to send Special Voting Deputies to assisted living facilities to help residents cast absentee ballots before each election so they do not have to go to the polls.
In 2012, I decided to become an election official and work at the polls, upon learning that the best way to empower voters is to make sure that qualified people work at the polls to ensure that all eligible voters who come to vote, are able to vote. This year, I agreed to become a Special Voting Deputy, and I am glad to report that in doing so, along with all the other people who join me in doing this work, we are empowering many people who would not be able to get to the polls, or even fill out an absentee ballot on their own, to cast their vote.
I have now helped voters in a variety of assisted living facilities. Some residents were quite mobile and came to the room where we set up an impromptu voting station and needed very little assistance. However, many residents were unable to read the ballot, so we read it to them. Others were too frail to fill in the ballot themselves, so we did so for them.
Some readers may wonder about the possibility of voter fraud when some of these voters need this extra assistance. However, we have a variety of protective procedures in place to make sure that cannot happen. We always have two Special Voting Deputies with the ballots and with each voter. If we read the ballot to the voter or fill it ballot in, we must sign the ballot stating that we did so. We also count all ballot multiple times to make sure that no ballots are missing. In addition, all Special Voting Deputies are trained by the City Clerk’s office before each election.
Perhaps the most challenging question is whether some of these voters are competent to vote. However, unless a voter has had his or her right to vote removed by a judge who found them incompetent to vote, these assisted living facility resident voters have the same right to vote as anyone else. Since we do not give competency tests to any other voters, why should we give them to those who happen to need extra care in an assisted living facility?
Sometimes, however, these voters will decline to vote because they do not feel they know enough to cast their ballot in a way that makes them feel comfortable. For this reason, we go to each facility twice, as some voters just need a little extra time to study the candidates and questions on the ballot. Yet, even on the second visit, some people choose not to vote. But if they do so, it will be their choice, not because some politicians disempowered them.
Many of these voters are elderly and have proudly voted in every single election since they became eligible to vote. For some of them, the possibility that they might not vote in an election is truly daunting, which is why we provide this extra assistance. We also remind them that they can choose not to vote in some races that they may not know enough about, just like any other voter.
My work as a Special Voting Deputy reminds me that when a democracy wants to empower voters, it knows how to do so. My hope is that we will elect more legislators who understand that democracy is best served when we empower everyone who is eligible to cast a vote, to do so.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.