Voter ID? How About Candidate ID?

By MIKE NICHOLS | January 13, 2011

Elizabeth Coggs, the new Democratic state representative for the 10th Assembly District in Milwaukee, is against the Voter ID proposal because, she told me today, many poorer residents of her central city district don’t have IDs and would be disenfranchised if one is now required to cast a ballot.

With all due respect, I had to remind her, most folks in the 10th District and many other places aren’t exactly running to the polls anyway.

Statewide voter turnout during the September primary was under 20%. The Government Accountability Board doesn’t track turnout per district, but I did some rough calculations on my own and figure that less than 10% of some 44,000 eligible adults voted for Coggs or one of her opponents in that district during that primary – the only race that really mattered since it’s an overwhelmingly Democratic area where general elections are just formalities.

She was essentially elected, in other words, by a mere 2,600 or so voters who showed up during the fall primary. Over 40,000 others apparently couldn’t have cared less.

“There is an apathy among voters in the country, period,” she agreed.

Where we differ is on whether requiring an ID could possibly drive turnout any lower.

Coggs believes some folks without IDs do presently vote and wouldn’t if IDs were required. I think common sense suggests that the vast majority of people without IDs are too disengaged from society to ever vote anyway. Telling a man without an ID that he can’t vote would be like telling an Eskimo in Nome he’s not allowed on the beach in Cabo San Lucas.

Not really a problem.

Coggs’ district isn’t the only one where apathy is rampant, of course. But I called her for a reason.

Until last month, she didn’t even live in the 10th District she now represents. She lived in the 1300 block of N. 18th St. – which is part of the 16th Assembly District represented by one of her relatives, Leon Young. She ran for office in the 10th , it seems, because she didn’t want to challenge Young. 

Her official state website has her living in the 10th now, but she only moved in after the election – something that, she points out, is allowed under state law. She is a carpetbagger, in other words, who didn’t even vote there herself.

The City of Milwaukee Election Commission did confirm, in fairness, that she voted in both the primary and the general election in the 16th. And, she says, she worked the 10th District hard and has always emphasized getting as many people to the polls as possible.

Still, there’s an irony here. As I pointed out in a recent story in Wisconsin Interest that only touched briefly on the issue of voter turnout, Elizabeth Coggs had a formidable opponent in the 10th who seemed well-suited to the district in many ways, Stephanie Findley.

Coggs, nevertheless, won because she had a well-known name, union support and -- yes -- low turnout in an area where most people likely had no idea she lived outside the district. 

Personally, I think asking voters to produce an ID would add to the integrity of the process and maybe convince a few more folks to take part.

Then again, I understand why people like Elizabeth Coggs aren’t big on asking everyone show an ID with an address on it proving they live in the district. I mean just imagine what would have happened in the 10th District if, during the campaign, everyone had demanded one of her.

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