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How Confusion About Wisconsin Election Laws Can Disenfranchise Voters

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As millions cast their ballots in Wisconsin, some may choose to sit out as changing election laws make them feel that their vote will not be counted.

As we near what many people hope will be the end of the 2020 election, there are increasing concerns about its fairness. In Wisconsin, as with other states, there have been last minute changes to voting rules that could have a major impact on how legal votes are counted.

Conservatives in Wisconsin fought to invalidate all legally cast votes delivered after Election Day, and changes by Republican Postmaster General Louis DeJoy seemed to intentionally slow down mail service around the country as more ballots than ever will be cast by mail. In a contentious election like the one happening right now, these tactics can mean the difference between winning or losing an election. 

"Those kinds of [last minute] tactics I think really do work to suppress the vote in the sense that there are always people who feel like, ‘Is it worth it to vote?’ And uncertainty increases the likelihood that they think, ‘Well, I’m not going to bother then,' " says Paru Shah, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at UW-Milwaukee

There are even efforts to invalidate votes that were already legally cast. Efforts to suppress the vote aren’t new here in the U.S. Shah points out that since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, barriers to voting have changed, but they still disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color and other vulnerable groups like the elderly, disabled people, working class people and younger voters. 

"The Voting Rights Act really addressed things like literacy tests and poll taxes," says Shah. "But I think what you see nowadays are things like voter ID laws, the reduction in the number of polling places, the reduction in the number of times polling places are open."

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.