“On the Issues” Programs Give Contrasting Views of Political Gravity Around Voting Issues

You can feel the “gravitational pull” of the political forces that are trying to make it harder for people to vote, Marquette Law School Professor Atiba Ellis said during a recent “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program. He and Molly McGrath, a voting rights attorney, advocate, and organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights project, called for resisting that pull through broad efforts to make voting accessible and easy for the maximum number of people.

Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), also can be seen as someone with a strong sense of gravity around voting issues. But the pull he feels leads him and the influential conservative law firm and think tank he heads to take positions that differ with those of Ellis and McGrath. In a separate “On the Issues” program recently, Esenberg described WILL’s work on a range of issues, including on voting issues. The pull Esenberg described was toward observing the law and judicial decisions in ways that likely would put more limits on ways to vote.

The pair of programs, conducted virtually and posted on the Marquette Law School web site, continued the “On the Issues” focus on voting issues. The programs are hosted by Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy.

McGrath described some of the efforts of critics of the way the 2020 elections were conducted. They include strong pushes in legislatures and courts around the United States, including in Wisconsin, to restrict absentee voting. That could especially impact in “heartbreaking ways” people who have physical limitations that make going to polling places difficult, she said. Opposition has also been strong to other practices that make voting more convenient and accessible to people, such as offering drop boxes for ballots.

“What we’re seeing is almost like death by a thousand cuts,” McGrath said. Overall, restrictions could have a big impact on who is able to vote, especially affecting low income and minority people who have historically faced barriers to voting. McGrath said the ACLU and others will fight all such efforts in court and support legislative action to keep voting more accessible.

Ellis said many of the claims about voting problems were false. “Voter fraud disinformation has been a long-time danger to the American republic,” he said. “We should solve the problems that exist rather than make up problems.” He said, “The big lie (about voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election) is not real. The fraud storm never happened. We should not let the fear make our decisions about what our democracy ought to be.”

The Wisconsin election in 2020 was the safest in the modern era, Ellis said, Making options such as drop boxes available helped people vote. He said he himself voted using a drop box because it was convenient.

Esenberg disagreed with those who label WILL a group that helps only Republican causes and said its commitment is to seeing laws and court decisions carried out in accord with the law.

In terms of voting, Esenberg said there were legitimate issues raised by some practices during the 2020 elections, including whether drop boxes were permissible and whether it was OK to use private money to support election work by government officials in many Wisconsin communities. Esenberg said there was “a partisan screw” to how that money was granted.

WILL was involved in efforts to question about 200,000 names on Wisconsin voting roles. Esenberg said the organization was not trying to purge legitimate voters from election rolls but wanted adherence to laws requiring people to be current residents of the community where they vote. Voting roles need to be accurate, he said.

The program with Ellis and McGrath was posted on October 20, 2021. It may be viewed by clicking here.

The program with Esenberg was posted on October 7, 2021. It may be viewed by clicking here.






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