Steve Pacewicz of Madison, Wis., is such a political junkie that he can speak intelligently about Canadian pipeline proposals. His Facebook page is plastered with images of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Until recently, though, he didn’t think he was going be voting in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He didn’t think he could afford it. Pacewicz, 56, is a homeless man who sleeps in his truck. Wisconsin has a new “voter ID” law that requires every voter to show specific kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot. If a voter wants to obtain that identification while keeping his driver’s licence, it costs money. Pacewicz, who works odd jobs, doesn’t have any. He only managed to get the card he needed — a duplicate of the licence he said he never received in the mail — when a non-profit group called VoteRiders paid the $14 fee for him. If it hadn’t, his only other option was surrendering his driving privileges in exchange for a free non-driver ID. He is still indignant. “I don’t have much in this world, but I know I’ve got rights,” he said. “I have to trade my driving privileges for my right to vote? That doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t that kind of like Jim Crow laws? The new version?”
As the world fixates on the results of the voting in two fiercely contested primaries, another intense struggle is playing out at the same time: the latest round of America’s endless brawl over who gets to vote and how easily. The forever-simmering issue was brought back to national attention by a fiasco last month, when thousands of voters in Phoenix waited in lines as long as six hours to vote in the Arizona primaries.
“People who . . . maybe this was their first time voting . . . I’m afraid this was such a bad experience that they’re probably not going to want to do it again,” said Michelle Arndt, 50, who waited in line from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.
The lines were so gigantic because Maricopa County officials had cut the number of polling places from 200 to 60. The officials were only able to do so, voting rights advocates say, because of the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated a key section of the federal law designed to protect minorities.
The Voting Rights Act had required eight southern states with a record of election discrimination to secure federal permission to make any changes that affect voting. Those states are now free to make all the changes they please.