In the waning days of this legislative session, the Wisconsin State Senate under GOP leadership is poised to pass some of the most anti-freedom legislation this state has seen in a generation.
One of the fundamental freedoms that Wisconsin has always expanded for its citizens is the vote. The first State Constitution proposed in 1846 would have granted the right to vote for immigrants, women and African Americans. That original Constitution failed to pass due to Territorial laws giving only property-owning white males the right to vote on the founding document. The adopted Constitution in 1848 provided the foundation of voting freedom, and Wisconsin has continued to expand voting freedom throughout history:
- 1849 Wisconsin Referendum provided African American men the right to vote.
- 1865-1866 Ezekiel Gillespie case at State Supreme Court validates African American vote.
- 1869 Wisconsin is a leader in passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing African American the right to vote nationwide.
- 1919 Wisconsin leads the nation in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the vote.
- 1935 Wisconsin leads the nation in expanding voting freedom to “Every citizen” over the age of 21 and a state resident for one year. At this time, most other states still had literacy, language, or property requirements.
- Contemporary voting freedom acts have Wisconsin as a national leader in voting registration and participation, fundamental to our democracy.
The legislation before the State Senate today is historic, in that it represents the first time in over a generation that our duly elected legislators may act to impinge upon the freedom of thousands of Wisconsinites to register and vote. Not since the 1908 American Indian Voting Restrictions, which prohibited American Indians in Wisconsin from voting if they lived on a reservation, has a sitting legislature taken action that would literally impinge upon people’s fundamental freedom to register to vote or cast a ballot.
This legislature has established itself as a fundamentally anti-freedom body. Since 2011, this legislature has acted to impinge upon the freedom of citizens to organize for the purposes of negotiating for fair wages, earned benefits, and just working conditions. It has impinged upon the freedom of thousands of children to receive a quality public education through funding cuts. It has even impinged upon (and continues to impinge upon) the freedom of local governments to provide necessary resources and services to their constituents.
Making matters worse are current proposals which would open the flow of campaign cash even further. It is the freedom to vote and participate in democracy that is at the foundation of our nation. Our lawmakers take an oath to uphold this principle, and through their continual pursuit of big money interests and lobbyists, our elected lawmakers are choosing to betray that trust. In essence, they are cheating on us – engaging in a salacious affair with these big money and lobbying interests, kicking the majority of Wisconsinites they represent to the curb.
The legacy of this Legislative Session will be written years from now. If the GOP-controlled Senate passes these bills as conventional wisdom suggests, it will go down in history as an anti-freedom legislature -impinging upon fundamental freedoms which have been established for generations.
(See link here for Wisconsin Election History documentation)