Politics & Government
1:46 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Wisconsin Plus 48 Years of the Voting Rights Act

The U.S. enacted the Voting Right Act on August 6, 1965, prohibiting states and communities from imposing prerequisites on voting, that could make it difficult for people of color to cast ballots.

UW Political Scientist David Canon says Wisconsin has remained near the top, when it comes to voter turnout - being either number two or three in the country. He cites three factors:

Wisconsin remains a leader in terms of voter turnout

-- Wisconsin is politically competitive when it comes to statewide races (for president, U.S. Senate and governor)

-- Wisconsin has a tradition of progressive policies on voting, including early adoption (1976) of Election Day registration. "When people can register at the polls on Election Day, that increases turnout 5-8%," Canon says.

-- Wisconsin has a strong tradition of political participation and activism, compared with most states

Canon says Wisconsin remained near the top in voter turnout in 2012, with 72.5% of eligible voters casting ballots - making the state number two in the nation. Wisconsin was also among just a handful of states which experienced an increase in turnout, over the 2008 elections.

He says there are two areas in which the state could reverse its trend of being a leader in voter turnout. One is if the state's new Photo ID requirement is upheld. Canon says the requirement could discourage some would-be voters from participating. Supporters of the plan say it will help ensure the integrity of elections.

In addition, Canon says redistricting in recent cycles has left an increasing number of political districts here in the grasp of one party or the other, and a lack of competitive races generally discourages people from voting.

While the state sets voter laws, Canon says Wisconsin's overall system is fairly decentralized, with nearly 2,000 local election managers. They carry out the laws in ways that best serve their communities, so there has been some variation across the state, such as how long a clerk's office is open for early voting. State leaders have been taking steps to make voting across Wisconsin, more uniform.