Voting chance for the people to make a difference

Our right to vote is precious.

It wasn’t until 150 years ago that the right to vote got some government protections. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Women fought for the right to vote for decades, but it wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was passed. In 1971 the death of thousands of young adults in Vietnam led to the passage of the 26th Amendment. Voting was thus expanded to include those who were at least 18 years of age

Even though voting is essential to our democracy, there have been political forces who have tried to limit access to the ballot box. President Johnson told Congress they needed to enact expansive voter rights. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced while civil rights leaders, now under the protection of federal troops, led a march of 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. (Since then it has been weakened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.)

Unfortunately, despite all the efforts to protect the vote, there have been ongoing efforts for voter suppression by Republican-dominated state legislatures. The pattern targets black, Latino, young, and low-income voters, who traditionally lean Democratic.

Under the guise of voter fraud, the Wisconsin legislature has imposed the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. It is now difficult for individuals that don’t have a driver’s license to vote. These individuals must get a free state ID card from the Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition, hours of operation have been scaled back at the DMV making it more difficult for voters to get the identification they need.

If that isn’t enough, there are other tactics that have been used by legislatures to win elections. Every 10 years, the census is taken and the information is supposed to be used to draw the lines for state assembly and senate districts as well as congressional districts. In 2011, Wisconsin was one of the states whose Republican legislature redrew the districts to their advantage in a process known as gerrymandering.

In the 2018 midterm election, 53 percent of statewide Assembly votes went to the Democrats; however, they only secured 36 percent of the 99 seats. Thankfully, one of Gov. Tony Evers’ initiatives is to put nonpartisan redistricting reform in his proposed state budget.

Because there are forces that try to “buy” our votes, it is the responsibility of voters in a democracy to do their homework. Voters need to be aware of the falsehoods that dark money groups put in TV ads and home-delivered literature. These political action committees donate huge sums of money to the candidates who they think will do their bidding. It should be the desire of everyone, Democrat, Republican or independent, to work toward getting big money out of politics.

Efforts to accommodate voters should be made easier, not harder. Wisconsin is one of the states that has allowed voters to register to vote online. If you have a driver’s license, you can go to http://myvote.wi.gov by March 13. Gov. Evers would like to go even further and join the 15 states who have already implemented automatic voter registration.

The next chance that Wisconsin voters have to make their opinions known is in the April 2 spring election. Early voting begins March 18. Non-partisan candidates for local elections and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice will be on the ballot. Judges should be fair, impartial and independent.

A democracy cannot exist if citizens don’t exercise their responsibility to choose their representatives. Voting is our chance to make a difference.

Jan Koch is a Shawano resident and the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Shawano County.