Wisconsin had the second highest voter turnout in the country on Election Day, just two weeks ago. While people across the board showed up at the polls, there are subsets of the population where decreased participation was seen.
Of registered voters in Milwaukee, 74 percent participated in the 2018 midterm elections. That marks an increase of 8,000 voters across the city when compared to the 2014 midterm elections. Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht says it’s great that so many people voted, but that increase was not seen across the city.
“Many of the same aldermanic districts where we saw a decrease in voting from the 2012 presidential to the 2016 presidential, we saw a comparable decrease from the 2014 midterm to the 2018 midterm,” Albrecht says.
What’s concerning, he says, is that the districts where people are not showing up represent some of the poorest in Milwaukee. Albrecht believes the decrease in voter turnout in those areas has to do with changes in Wisconsin voting laws.
“Such as the elimination of special registration deputies, the close of open registration for registering purposes, and the photo ID requirement,” he says.
While the changes to voting laws may not be the only reason people in some areas of the city are not showing up, Albrecht believes the changes are playing a significant role. Still, he says the biggest hurdle for low-income people is proving their residency.
“Most people have some photo ID. It may not have their current address on it, which is the issue, it really is somebody who is staying at a friend’s house for a period of time. Has no utility bill in their name, no lease, just not able to meet the proof of residence requirement,” Albrecht says.
Albrecht says people staying in homeless shelters or people working with a social service agency can get a certified letter that will allow them to register to vote. But he says people who are just staying with someone don’t have that option.
Alderman Bob Bauman agrees with Albrecht and says the impact of voter suppression tactics are undeniable.
“This time, unlike 2016 when some argue that the national campaigns kind of took Wisconsin for granted, took Milwaukee for granted, took the central city of Milwaukee for granted, they didn’t do a particularly, they didn’t vest in a lot of get out to vote efforts — I was there, I saw it not happening. This time, there was a massive investment in get out to vote,” Bauman says.
He went on to say that there was even an African-American candidate at the top of the ticket in Lt. Gov.-elect Mandela Barnes and some people still did not turn out.
Albrecht says all that he and his employees can control is whether people are getting the information and they plan to continue to work to make sure that is happening.