With its challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, the NAACP is carrying on a struggle for voting rights that dates back to the post-Civil War era, James Hall, president of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, told the Law School’s Mike Gousha and an audience of more than 100 during an “On the Issues” session last week.
Hall, president of the organization since January 2011, emphasized the importance of voting and the long history in America of disenfranchising minorities and low income people by use of rules about voting. “There is so much repeating history,” he said.
The NAACP suit against the law, passed by the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 and requiring people to present an acceptable form of photo identification at the polls, led to a Dane County judge putting a halt to enforcement of the law through a temporary injunction a week ago. More legal action in that suit and other challenges to the law is expected in advance of the statewide election on April 3.
Hall, a practicing lawyer whose NAACP position is unpaid, said there were fewer than 20 prosecutions for voter fraud in Wisconsin in recent years. “Why, all of a sudden, this move to require a photo ID?” Hall said. “Certain types of people don’t have that.” Many of them are African American, he said. “In fact, it is a disenfranchisement law.”
The law was supported generally by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Supporters said it was a sensible way to reduce chances of voter fraud, while opponents said its practical effect would be to put up barriers to voting for many low income people who don’t have drivers licenses.
Hall told Gousha that the civil rights organization, founded in 1909, remains very relevant. “across the country and particularly here in Milwaukee.” He said the city has some of the largest disparities in the country between African Americans and whites when it comes to income, employment, incarceration, and educational achievement.
Milwaukee and its leaders have not responded with the intensity that is needed to deal with the problems facing many black people in Milwaukee, Hall said. He said, “No, there is not the sense of urgency we would like.” He said the NAACP wants to work together with people from throughout the Milwaukee area in solving problems. “It is in our enlightened self-interest to address these disparities,” he said.
The Eckstein Hall session may be viewed by clicking here.