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Wisconsin GOP Trying to Weaken State Courts

Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature are attempting to ram through a bill that would skirt the powers of circuit courts in the states. The measure would blatantly undermine the check-and-balance between the state legislature and state courts by taking away the circuit courts’ ability to block all or portions of state laws.

Here’s how state Rep. David Craig (R-Big Bend) justifies the bill: “A county judge elected by ‘a small fraction of the state’ shouldn't be able to stop a law that affects the entire state.” What Craig failed to note is that these judges are not using city charters or county ordinances to make decisions – they’re applying the Wisconsin Constitution.

The real issue at hand is that conservatives are feeling the sting from progressives, who have relentlessly challenged extreme right-wing laws such as voter ID and the anti-union collective bargaining laws in 2011. Circuit courts have granted several injunctions that temporarily blocked portions of these laws until higher courts could determine their constitutionality.

The separation of powers is important to maintain a balance between the three branches of government. This is clearly a conservative power play to undermine the “check” created by the state constitution to help prevent such extreme laws from being enacted.

America Votes partner One Wisconsin Now released a statement saying, “Under [the GOP legislature’s] scheme, our justice system would be turned on its head to satisfy their seemingly insatiable quest for political power. While they flout the Constitution, people's rights would be denied."

Republicans in the state legislature are hoping to push this through quickly to limit the amount of opposition voiced against the measure. It is up to Wisconsin progressives to protect the state constitution by spreading the word of the conservatives’ power-grabbing ploy and stopping this bill from gaining any traction.

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A Win for the Middle Class in Wisconsin

Today, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stated that he would not push for a "Right to Work for Less" bill during the upcoming legislative session.

State Democratic and union leaders were worried that after the passing of the terrible legislation that ended collective bargaining rights for unions, that Republican leadership would push to make Wisconsin a "right to work" state.

Vos put our minds at ease, for now. It appears the state GOP doesn't want a recurrance of the bad publicity and protests that occured last time as we get closer to the 2014 Governor race.

Republicans may be trying to paint themselves as bipartisan for now, but we all know the truth. Their policies hurt the middle class.

America Votes will continue to work with our partners to fend off any chance of "right to work" legislation in the state and continue our pursuit for progressive goals for all citizens of Wisconsin.

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The GOP’s Plan to Destroy the Electoral College

GOP leaders want to do away with the popular vote in awarding states’ Electoral College (EC) votes and replace it with a gerrymandered map created by state legislators.

As of right now, there are only two states that don’t award their EC votes on a winner-takes-all basis -- Maine and Nebraska. Instead, they allocate their votes by Congressional districts. Republicans are now making a push for the swing states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan to follow suit.

Conservatives have acknowledged that demographics are no longer on their side, and in a move that can only be seen as extreme desperation, they are ready to play dirty. By having complete control of these states’ governments, they are ready to move forward with this power grab to change the course of Presidential elections as we know it.

The GOP lost the national popular vote for their House candidates by more than one million votes, yet still maintained control of the chamber. This was only possible through extreme gerrymandering of Congressional districts -- squeezing all urban areas into smaller districts, while creating huge sprawling rural districts where less people live. These tactics not only decrease the voices of the majority, but give underrepresentation to them as well.

Now, they want to use these unfair and misappropriated maps in the Presidential elections.

Republican leaders should be working towards building a more inclusive platform for their party, but instead are busy with dirty politics as usual. Fair warning: there will be political fallout should they attempt to push these measures through. Not only will we as progressives work to fight against them, but we will be on the frontline banging the battle drum.

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The Republican Party wants to suppress your vote

Pennsylvania’s new voter-ID law seems to be creating more than a few headaches lately.

When a person has to stand in numerous lines, fill out multiple forms, and spend over four hours of their day to receive an ID that is only good for the sole-purpose of voting, there is a problem within our democracy.

Voter-ID laws are a trend occurring all over the nation in states controlled by Republican legislatures; including swing-states such as Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida, and Wisconsin. They say that the new law will help protect against voter fraud. However, when allegations of voter fraud have been investigated, the numbers just do not seem to add up. In a major attempt by the Bush Administration to crack down on voter fraud between the years of 2002 to 2007, only 86 people were convicted of voter fraud out of the 300 million votes cast during that time. In the meantime, while Republicans beat their war drums against “big government spending,” the states that have implemented such laws will be spending a combined total of as much as $828 million over the next four years to have these laws implemented. This argument just lacks pure logical sense.

The reality is that state Republican legislatures are enacting a new form of “poll tax” on to groups who generally do not need or have a difficult time obtaining a new photo-ID. These groups (young voters, minorities, the poor, and the elderly) coincidentally enough, were what helped push Obama to victory in 2008. How odd that now these are the voices that Republicans seem to be attempting to suppress for the upcoming 2012 Election.

The Voting Rights Act prohibits states from imposing any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." This put an end to that era’s Jim Crowe Laws that dominated the polls within the Southern states and reinforced the ratification of the 15th Amendment.

These new laws are nothing more than a replacement to the laws that civil rights activists worked so hard to overthrow. They are taking away people’s rights to vote and suppressing the voices of the people. These states should be taken to court where, hopefully, these laws will be found unconstitutional.

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Wisconsin and the Ryan Bounce

The race appears to be tightening for the Presidential election in Wisconsin. Or does it?

In the latest Marquette poll done in the state, Obama was only leading Romney 49%-46%, down from the 5-point lead he held in the same poll before the announcement of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate. At first glance, it would appear that the Badger State holds quite a bit of love for their hometown boy. Ryan starts off his honeymoon phase with a 41% favorability rating.

However, what’s more interesting to note is the extremely high percentage of those who hold an unfavorable view of the Congressman: 34%. This is the highest unfavorable rating for a running mate since the selection of Dan Quayle. And as all political analysts know this number always climbs higher as we get closer to Election Day.

How long will the brief Ryan bounce help Romney in the end? Our guess is not very.

Polling Data

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Wisconsin Voter ID Law in Flux: Local Officials Unsure of Procedures for Tuesday Election

Two lawsuits challenging the legality of Wisconsin's Voter ID law were sent directly to the state's Supreme Court by lower Appeals Courts Wednesday.The law was stayed by two different Dane County circuit court judges in early March. The development puts Wisconsin election officials in limbo. If the Supreme Court decides to take up the cases, the law could be reinstated prior to next Tuesday's election.

The Government Accountability Board, which oversees the state's elections, says it has reached out to town clerks to clarify the status of the law.

"What we've been advising clerks is: train your poll wokers on the procedures for checking photo IDs. However, unless you hear otherwise from us, do not actually check photo IDs," said GAB spokesperson Reid Magney in an interview with Green Bay's Fox 11 News.

Clerks across the state have to be ready at a moment's notice to remove and replace signs advising voters to produce a photo ID. Some clerks have even hired additional poll workers for Tuesday in anticipation of widespread confusion.

"I feel like I'm somewhat ready," Neenah City Clerk Patty Sturn said, "but that could all change by the end of the week".

Wisconsin's Republican legislature passed its Voter ID bill last May. It is one of 32 states that have implemented Voter ID laws. Many of these laws are currently subject to pending court cases or review from the Department of Justice.


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Making Voting Harder: The Conservative M.O.

College students are young and according to New Hampshire Speaker William O'Brien they tend to vote for liberals because they lack life experience. At a Tea Party gathering in March he admitted that one of the benefits of the new laws requiring photo IDs to votes is that it would hurt turnout amount young, reliably liberal, voters. He claimed that he was specifically with out of state college students claiming residency in small towns and dramatically skewing election results. Such laws are becoming increasingly common and have faced significant public outcry in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, where voters are now required to show a valid photo ID at the polls. However, most university issued student ID cards do not meet state standards.

Neither students nor universities are simply accepting the new restrictions that would disenfranchise a large number of young people. University of Wisconsin students are either receiving new ID cards that comply with state law, or they can request a supplemental ID to bring to the polls. Students in Pennsylvania are using baked goods to protest a house bill that would instate similar restrictions. The University of Pennsylvania College Democrats recently gave out free baked goods to only those students who could present a valid ID. Those who could not were instead given a box of raisins plastered with a sticker protesting HB 934.

Not all college students are treated fairly, either. In Wisconsin, 400,000 students attend technical colleges, and the student IDs issued by these schools are not acceptable as voting ID. These students make up 10% of the state's voting age population. State officials have oscillated between policies allowing the use of technical IDs, and those disallowing the same cards. A final decision should be reached by mid-December.

Unfortunately college students are not the only population facing disenfranchisement. About 25% of African American voters and 18% of elderly voters may lack appropriate ID. One 84 year-old woman provides a particularly compelling case against the hardships that this new law may cause. When Ruthelle Frank was born in Wisconsin in 1927 she was not issued a birth certificate. She is a citizen, has a social security card, and has voted regularly since 1948, but she lacks a proper ID card. To further complicate matters, while her local register of deeds has an official record of her birth; her name is misspelled on the record. She now faces a lengthy battle and a potential cost of $200 to correct this clerical error and receive a valid ID so that she may vote.

Ruthelle is one of many. 177,399 Wisconsinites, or 23% of those over age 65, do not have proper ID and now need to jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to vote. Minorities, of any age, are also disproportionately more likely to lack proper ID.

Whether a newly minted 18 year old attending college, or an 80 year old who has been voting for years, everyone deserves the right to vote. However new laws requiring strict adherence to showing a photo ID prior to voting, put this right in jeopardy.


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Wisconsin Republicans Cancel Vote on Bill to Restrict Recall Elections

Republican State Senator Mary Lazich decided to cancel the committee on Transportation and Election meeting today. The committee was scheduled to vote on a controversial bill that would require petitions of recall to be notarized and would implement the newly drawn state senate districts. The bill would not affect the implementation of state assembly districts, which would go into effect for the November 2012 elections.

The bill received sharp criticism from Democrats who claimed that Republicans were trying to make the recall process harder by implementing the new district which are considered safer for Republican incumbents. Lazich decided to cancel the committee meeting after some Republicans announced that they would not support the bill, and the Assembly announced that they also did not have enough votes to pass the bill. With this lack of support Lazich determined that the bill would not leave committee and therefore will not appear on the senate floor until at least early next year.

Many also questioned the legality of adopting the new Senate districts now while keeping the current Assembly districts until November 2012. Others also cautioned that Wisconsin's redistricting plan still faces two court challenges that are not expected to go to trial until March 2012.


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State Unions Lose Certification in Wisconsin

Thursday, the major state employee unions in Wisconsin effectively lost their official status. Top leaders for the unions have said that the hurdle for keeping official status as laid out in Gov. Scott Walker's union bargaining law is too high. "We looked at the law and we find the law at best an exercise in wasted resources. We've chosen to use our resources to organize our members and advocate for our members," said Marty Bei, the executive director of the 23,000-member Wisconsin State Employees Union.

Under the new rules, unions would have to get 51% of all the members of the organization, not just 51% of those voting, in order to recertify. Even with certification, unions would have almost no bargaining rights. In March, Walker signed legislation ending all union bargaining for public employees except for limited negotiations over wages. Union employees can't bargain for raises larger than the rate of inflation unless approved by voters in a referendum.

"You go through all that and all you get to do is bargain (for limited raises)," said Bryan Kennedy, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin.

The legislation requires that unions go through yearly recertification votes to keep their official status. Unions can exist without the official status, but government employers don't have to recognize or bargain with them over anything.

Only four state unions have filed petitions for recertification elections, mostly extremely small unions like the 58-member Professional Employees in Research, Statistics and Analysis. The president of the union, Jeff Richter, acknowledged that the small size makes it possible to win a recertification election.

Governor Walker declined to comment on the decertification.

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Forward, Wisconsin

This is the second update from America Votes staffers on the ground in Wisconsin for the recall elections.

The progressive energy in my home state of Wisconsin is unlike anything I saw here in 2008 or 2010. There is a clear consensus among the voters I've met these past couple days: they want a government that represents their values, not an extreme administration. Today I knocked on many doors in rural parts of the state and talked to farmers who felt the Wisconsin government agenda has been"sneaky."

I'm amazed at the number of people I've met that are stepping up to volunteer with a campaign for the first time ever - let alone a special election. One man walked up to the phone bank sign-up table at the We Are Wisconsin Madison office, still wearing his bike helmet, and asked me how he could help. He wasn't a union member and had never volunteered for a campaign in the past. He said, "I was just out for a ride and saw you guys here, and I decided that I have to do something."

The inspiring number of volunteers I've seen the last few days have taught me why Wisconsin's official motto is "forward." The people of this state don't settle when things get out of hand - these people work hard for the change they want to see.

On Wisconsin!

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