The Milwaukee pastor Greg Lewis spent weeks before the November midterms working to get out the vote. Through the Souls to the Polls program, Lewis and other Milwaukee church officials educated members of the community about their voting rights, ensured they were registered and had proper documentation, and got them to polling places to cast their votes – sometimes encouraging them directly from the pews to the polls. It was exhausting work, Lewis said, but necessary to make sure members of the city’s “overlooked” and “underserved” African American community were able to make their voices heard. “People are tired of being abused and misused, and others are tired of seeing those people abused and misused,” said Lewis, a minister at St Gabriel’s Church of God in Christ on the city’s north side. “And we really came together.”
But now, access to the ballot for African Americans in this deeply segregated city of 600,000 is coming under threat.
The outgoing Republican governor, Scott Walker, on Friday signed a package of bills passed by Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature hamstringing the incoming Democrats in what has been characterized – even by some prominent Republicans in the state – as a “power grab”. Among the bills Walker signed out of the controversial lame-duck session was a bill to limit early voting in the state, a measure similar to one that was ruled unconstitutional and discriminatory in 2016.
The measure has already triggered legal challenges from liberal groups in the state, and is likely to be shot down in court, activists and experts say. But it underscores the Republican attacks on minority voting rights across the country, and some here fear it has already caused enough uncertainty to keep voters away from the ballot box.