Archive | July, 2012

Are Student Votes on the Moving Truck? Early Primary Voting Starts Today

30 Jul

Today, Monday July 30, is the first day Wisconsin voters can take advantage of early and absentee voting before the August 14 primaries. Voting early, either in person at municipal clerks’ offices or by requesting an absentee ballot, makes civic participation and exercising the right to vote something citizens can do in their own time and on their own terms.

But amidst some lively, competitive primary races, some voters in Wisconsin may be trying to find their right to vote among boxes and packing peanuts. Student voters in particular are navigating new changes to elections law that put primary election day right on the cusp of the start date for many new leases. College towns like Madison are abuzz with moving vans on August 14. Some students even find themselves very temporarily homeless as one lease ends on August 14 and the next one begins on August 15.

Act 75 was signed by Governor Walker on November 16, 2011 so that Wisconsin could comply with the Federal Military and Overseas Voters Act. In order to make sure military and overseas voters could receive and mail back ballots, the date of the primaries were bumped up in states across the nation. Act 75 also included an option for these voters to receive their ballots and instructions electronically. Democratic legislators tried to get electronic balloting options included in the law for all voters, but that effort failed. (More electronic options should be the future of voting: Wisconsin Election Protection issued their report on the June 5 Recall Election in which they recommended options for people to show proof of residence electronically.)

We’ve blogged before about how changes in the elections rules and calendars impact student voters. It is unfortunate that thousands student voters who want to participate in primary elections will be experiencing the major life disruptions that come with moving in the back-to-school season. Fortunately early/absentee voting is still an option. Remind your fellow Wisconsin citizens that they can vote in the primaries now. For those who moved to a new Wisconsin address after July 18, voters will have to vote in the polling place connected to where they last established residency.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation knows that citizens have the right to vote without barriers, misinformation or intimidation. We will continue to work to educate voters about their rights in order to counter the confusion, lack of clear information or the misinformation on the changes voting laws.

Recall Elections Report Released: Election Protection Says Law Changes Disfranchised Voters

25 Jul

The following press release was issued by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection coalition today. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation is a member of Wisconsin Election Protection. Thanks to all of the attorneys, volunteers, observers, polling place staffers and watchdogs who help keep Wisconsin’s elections system strong. Together, we can all help to make it better. Read on for ways our elections can be improved to allow all eligible voters to cast their ballot.

Recent changes in voting laws in Wisconsin disfranchised voters in the June 5 Recall Election, according to a report issued by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection coalition today. Voter and poll worker misinformation and confusion over photo ID requirements, registration and residency documentation and the lack of corroboration kept eligible voters from casting a ballot. The Wisconsin Election Protection report suggests changes the State of Wisconsin can make to improve our voting system to ensure that all voters can participate in our elections.

Wisconsin Election Protection, in cooperation with the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, sponsored the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline for the Recall Election where attorneys and highly trained volunteers answered more than 2,000 calls from voters and poll observers. In cooperation with The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network more than 150 observers were placed in polling places around the state. The report issued today is a summary of issues attorneys and volunteers addressed state-wide.

“The biggest problems that we saw are that misinformation, limited poll worker training and recent changes in state law that make it harder to register and vote are the real problems that must be addressed before the November Presidential Election,” said Milwaukee attorney and hotline coordinator Attorney Ann Jacobs. “Claims of voter fraud that some raised after the election were found to be simply incorrect. The greatest threats to our elections are in the impediments eligible voters face on Election Day.”

The Wisconsin Election Protection report outlines concerns the coalition has with confusion over registration and residency documentation, voter and poll worker misinformation and confusion over photo ID requirements polling place location changes, lines and delays for voters, inadequate registration forms and ballots in a high-turnout election, and inadequate training for poll workers – particularly after there have been significant changes in voting laws, and some instances of voter intimidation by elections observers and poll workers.

The report also includes recommendations for the 2012 Presidential Election that the Government Accountability Board should consider including:

  • Improving guidance on what documents are and are not acceptable for voter registration;
  • Allowing proof of residence to be in electronic form (as many utilities, banks and other formal institutions move to online statements);
  • Posting the DMV hotline so that voters who have lost their driver’s licenses or state ID cards can call for the number needed to register;
  • Restoring corroboration for voters who do not have residency documentation in their names;
  • Restoring the ability to send and receive absentee ballots by e-mail or fax;
  • Improving Chief Inspectors’ and poll workers’ training statewide;
  • Ensuring adequate signage, ballots and registration materials for high-turnout elections;
  • Using a single, uniform statewide  voter registration form;
  • Expanding voter education; and communicating with all voters and poll workers about the current status of the Voter ID law.

These changes would improve Wisconsin’s voting system for the August 14 primaries and the November 6 election. Coalition members will be working to educate citizens about their voting rights for upcoming elections. For the Presidential Election, Wisconsin Election Protection will again have trained volunteers and attorneys staffing the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline and observing polling places. 

Wisconsin Election Protection is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations whose purpose is to protect voting rights, expose and prevent voter intimidation, and to preserve access to the polls for all voters.  For more on Wisconsin Election Protection, visit our Facebook page or follow us @EPWisco on Twitter. Find more about the national Election Protection project online.

Download the full Wisconsin Election Protection report on the June 5 Recall Election

Download a PDF of the Wisconsin Election Protection press release on the report

Summer of Peace Preview: Civil Liberties at the Heart of Milwaukee’s ACLU Public Art Student Alliance

20 Jul

ACLU Public Art Student Alliance (PASA) members work on their float.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation will join with Milwaukee community organizations to mark the tenth annual Summer of Peace event on Friday, July 27, 2012.

Rooted in a peace-arts program, the Summer of Peace offers teens workshops on conflict resolution and culminates in a free peace rally.  Read more about this year’s event in the Milwaukee Community Journal. The event has a website and a Facebook page with more information and updates.

The event will have youth exhibitions of their workshop projects including mini-activities on their awareness campaigns. Participating organizations will have information booths and the event will include food, musicians, artists, crafts and other entertainers. The All City Parade (Milwaukee Public Theatre) will join with the Summer of Peace to sponsor a colorful parade from Sherman Park to Washington Park involving community-created giant puppets, dancers, musicians and stilt-walkers. The event begins at 10:00 a.m.

Katie Jesse and Paige Coe (as Violin), are a part of the section “Moving to the Beat of Your Own Drum”

In light of the attention to the tragic shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as well as recent violence experienced by Milwaukee youth, the Summer of Peace offers a timely opportunity to address racism, civil rights and liberties, and the violence experienced by urban youth. As Milwaukee continues to lead the nation in segregation and disproportionate incarceration of people of color, the city needs a call to peace and unity.

Founded in 2002 by Tanya Cromartie and Fidel Verdin, Summer of Peace 365 involves facilitators who work year-round with teens on character and leadership building, conflict resolution and building compassion. Participants are trained as community advocates who are empowered to act as positive agents of change in their communities. Through the work of a diverse coalition of organizations, artists, poets, entertainers, community leaders, civil libertarians, restorative justice facilitators, racial justice experts, anti-bullying trainers and professionals will work together to address youth empowerment.

Organizations involved in “All-City Summer of Peace Coalition” include the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation,  Boys and Girls Clubs, Children’s Outing Association, COA Youth and Family Center, Medical College of Wisconsin’s Violence Prevention Initiative, Milwaukee Public Theatre, Milwaukee Mask and Puppet Theatre, Peace Action, Running Rebels, Safe and Sound Inc., Sherman Park Neighborhood Association, True Skool, UNCOM, United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee, Urban Ecology Center, Washington Park Partners and others.

ACLU Public Art Student Alliance arts interns learn how to craft visual images through paper mache.

Community support is needed to stage the Summer of Peace event. To help with the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation public arts program, contact Youth and Program Director Emilio De Torre at or (414) 272-4032 x 223. For more information about the event, please contact Tanya Cromartie-Byrd at (414) 326-0507 or to be a sponsor, donate materials, volunteer, register for the rally or participate in the pre-rally activities.

Southeastern Wisconsin Demands Equity in Transit – Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Implications of SEWRPC

18 Jul

This week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation took another step in speaking up for people who use public transit. In southeastern Wisconsin, plans for spending your tax dollars are being made in a way that are discriminatory and contribute harm to our environment. Here’s how our comments to a regional planning organization impact the civil rights of people who live in Milwaukee.

Here is the update from ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s Karyn Rotker. Ms. Rotker is the foundation’s Race, Poverty and Civil Liberties Attorney: 

Background on transportation decision-makers in government:

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are agencies created by government to address regional planning. And the big reason they’re important – especially in a segregated region like southeastern Wisconsin – is that they have a lot of say over what happens with federal transportation dollars. The MPO for the seven counties in and around Milwaukee is the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC).

Because we know that persons of color and persons with disabilities in southeastern Wisconsin are much more likely to depend on public transit – for work, school, medical care, and more – and because Wisconsin is spending billions of dollars to beef up highways while public transit is in crisis, we’re telling the federal government that it needs to make our planners put more focus on transit and less on adding highway capacity – which just leads to more segregated sprawl.  These maps, prepared by SEWRPC itself, show just how isolated persons of color and persons with disabilities are.

The role of the federal government:

Every four years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have to certify that MPOs are following federal laws, including civil rights and environmental justice standards. Because we don’t think these concerns have been taken seriously in the past, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and our civil rights and environmental justice allies put together some comments that go into the background of segregation in this region along with a lot of suggestions on what needs to improve. To download our most recent comments, click on the document link at the bottom of the page.

What SEWRPC needs to change to ensure nondiscriminatory transit options:

The comments are available on the web, but some of our main points are that our regional planners need to make sure that:

• They use more federal “highway” funds to expand transit: federal rules on spending allow for the option to use funds for highway OR transit projects. SEWRPC should use flex funds to expand transit options to meet environmental justice needs in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Priorities should emphasize civil rights and environmental justice: a transportation improvement plan should look at how decisions impact minority neighborhoods and urban workers’ ability to access their jobs from affordable housing. SEWRPC doesn’t.

• Urban residents needs fair representation on the commission: The way SEWRPC is structured now, Ozaukee County – which has less than 10% of the number of residents as Milwaukee County – gets the same number of votes as Milwaukee. The city of Milwaukee, where the majority of the whole region’s population of color and a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities live, gets no vote at all. For SEWRPC to fairly represent the region, the makeup of the commission should reflect populations proportionately. 

We hope that this time the federal government takes those concerns seriously. If you want to join us in speaking up for fair transit, contact me at the ACLU of Wisconsin,

Recertification Review Comments July 16, 2012-2

Voter ID On Hold, But Residency Requirements Lead to Confusion

18 Jul

Wednesday, July 18th starts the 28-day timeframe by which Wisconsin citizens establish their residency for voting. Wisconsin voters who move after Wednesday will have to register and vote at their old address in order to cast a ballot for the August primaries.

Don’t be surprised if residency requirements seem a bit confusing. For the June 5 recall election, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, through our work with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Election Protection (@EPWisco) effort, helped to field many questions from voters about when residency restrictions began and what documents were needed to prove residency for those who were registering on Election Day. A complete list of documents needed to prove residency is available on the GAB website.

Residency requirements raised a lot of questions for college student voters who wanted to vote in the June recall, but moved away from their college residence after the end of the semester,” said Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “The new residency rules will definitely impact student voters this fall, particularly those who live or go to school in places where the primary races are the most competitive.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s legal department interviewed students from around the state who would be impacted by the requirements to show a photo ID to vote. Students who move to Wisconsin from out of state would be particularly impacted by voter ID if their school did not have a free student ID that complied with the law. But even students who live in Wisconsin year-around are impacted by new residency restrictions if they move between their family and college residence.

Yesterday a second judge issued an order to stop the implementation of the Voter ID law. A federal lawsuit from the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is still pending.  Read more about why we filed suit and why we amended our lawsuit to include a Voting Rights Act claim about the discriminatory racial impact of the law.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Racial Justice Advocates Ask Sen. Kohl to Support the End Racial Profiling Act

17 Jul

On Monday, July 9, a dozen Wisconsinites went to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s office to discuss the problem of racial profiling. They shared stories about their experiences living in Southeastern Wisconsin and described their concerns with race-based traffic stops and other actions by law enforcement they felt were discriminatory. 

ACLU of Wisconsin members were among those who visited Kohl’s office to ask for his support of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). The End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (S. 1670 and H.R. 3618) would prohibit and attempt to ban racial profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin at the federal, state and local (including tribal) levels. The House version of ERPA includes gender as a protected category.

Contact Senator Kohl’s office and ask him to be a co-sponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act.

Followers of the Forward for Liberty blog may have already read our statements about how Milwaukee residents deserve professional policing after controversial allegations of illegal strip searches came to light. It is our position that racial profiling creates second-class citizens in Milwaukee and anywhere in Wisconsin where race is a factor in police stopping people on the street or in their cars. We worked to encourage the state legislature to pass a law requiring police to keep data on the race and ethnicity of people pulled over in traffic stops, but that law was quickly repealed by Governor Walker last year.

Some of the advocates who visited Kohl’s office are a part of the Face the Truth campaign which is an effort by the Rights Working Group to get meaningful action taken to stop discriminatory policing across the nation. The campaign is being endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union along with a coalition of over 100 national, state and local civil liberties, human rights, civil rights, immigrants’ rights and racial justice organizations.

Here is more about racial profiling from the Rights Working Group’s website:

What is racial profiling?

Racial profiling is the use of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin by law enforcement agents as a factor in deciding whom to investigate, arrest or detain, except where these characteristics are part of a specific suspect description. It is a degrading practice, is pervasive across the United States and continues largely unchecked, violating constitutional and international human rights:

– African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic individuals are stopped and searched much more often by law enforcement, for example, when “driving while black or brown” than whites;

– Since September 11, 2001, members of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities have increasingly and disproportionately been placed under surveillance, searched, interrogated and detained in the name of “national security” and have often times been labeled “terrorism suspects” when in reality many have only been charged with misdemeanors or minor immigration violations, if they have been charged at all;

– In recent years, law enforcement has singled out members of a third population under the guise of immigration enforcement—disproportionately harassing, interrogating, physically abusing and detaining individuals perceived to be Latino or Hispanic, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

By focusing on arbitrary factors unrelated to criminal activity rather than on specific indicators of criminal behavior or specific information about a criminal suspect, law enforcement agents decrease the hit rate on catching criminals. They also lose the trust of community members who believe agents to be biased or unjust. As a result, community members become less likely to assist with criminal investigations or seek protection from police when they themselves are victimized, which makes everyone less safe.

What has been done recently to stop racial profiling?

The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance prohibiting the use of race and ethnicity by federal law enforcement agencies in 2003 but this guidance is not enforceable, it does not address profiling based on religion or national origin, it does not cover surveillance activities, and it leaves gaping loopholes that allow racial profiling for “national security” purposes and at U.S. borders. The Department of Justice should revise these guidelines and apply them to anywhere federal agents act in partnership with state or local law enforcement agents and to any agency that receives federal funds.

The Secure Communities program and the Criminal Alien Program were established by former President George Bush in 2008 and expanded under President Obama. These programs involve state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and have formally (and informally) resulted in pre-textual arrests of people whom the police perceive to be “foreign,” including citizens and lawful permanent residents; police stop these individuals for other alleged, often minor offenses, as a pretext for checking immigration status. Programs like these should be eliminated if they result in racial profiling.