Thursday September 29, 2022

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Big Victory for Voters with Disabilities in Wisconsin!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Thursday, 01 September 2022
in Wisconsin

votingFederal Judge overrules Wisconsin Supreme Court, along with a state statute, that violated the rights of voters with disabilities to obtain assistance in the delivery of their absentee ballots.


MADISON—Yesterday was a day for celebration!

Federal Judge James Peterson ruled that a recent decision by the Wisconsin Supreme, along with a state statute, violated the rights of four voters with severe physical disabilities to obtain assistance in the delivery of their absentee ballots.

He granted summary judgment to these plaintiffs who brought the case (Carey v. WEC) and ruled that any disabled voter who needs assistance in the delivery of their absentee ballot can’t be denied such assistance.

At issue was a state statute that said that an absentee ballot must be “delivered in person, to the municipal clerk.” Also at issue was the Wisconsin Supreme Court July decision in the Teigen case that said voters themselves had to deliver that ballot to the clerk. The Wisconsin Supreme Court had also left unclear, in that decision, whether voters could get assistance in putting their absentee ballots in the mail.

Now voters with disabilities, if they need it, will be able to get assistance both in delivering their absentee ballot to the clerk and in putting their absentee ballot in the mail.

Judge Peterson, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, pointed out that the Wisconsin statute and the decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court had left voters with physical disabilities in a quandary.

He noted that they risked “imminent injury regardless of what they do. If they choose to comply with [the statute], they will have to forfeit their right to vote or attempt to vote in person with great difficulty and perhaps even at risk to their health and safety. But if plaintiffs violate [the statute] by obtaining assistance to vote absentee, their vote could be rejected, and they could be sanctioned for violating the law.”

This is an unacceptable bind to put any voter in, Judge Peterson ruled.

And he explained that the Wisconsin statute and the ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court collide head on with the protections under the Voting Rights Act.

“The Voting Rights Act is clear: disabled voters who need assistance in returning an absentee ballot are entitled to ask a person of their choosing for that assistance,” he wrote. He quoted the relevant section of the Voting Rights Act, which states:

voterid_hand“Any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the voter’s employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter’s union.”

This conflict between federal law and state law also put voters with disabilities in a bind, the judge said. “Voters shouldn’t have to choose between exercising their federal rights and complying with state law,” he wrote. “But that is the position that plaintiffs find themselves in.”

But they no longer are in that position now because Judge Peterson pointed out that federal law takes precedent over state law. As he put it, the Voting Rights Act “preempts” the state statute.

And so he issued a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that Wisconsin must provide “third-party ballot-return assistance to disabled voters who require such assistance.”

This is a tremendous victory for voters with disabilities, for disability rights activists, and for our fundamental freedom to vote.

And it’s a bracing defeat for the rightwing justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who so cavalierly dismissed the rights of disabled voters in Wisconsin.

It’s also an embarrassing defeat for the rightwing Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which brought the Teigen case in the first place in an effort to erect barriers for all of us to have to clear in the exercise of our freedom to vote.

matt-rothschildI send my congratulations to the four plaintiffs who courageously came forward and to Law Forward, the great pro-democracy law firm that represented the plaintiffs so brilliantly. And I send my congratulations to Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Disability Vote Coalition, which has pushed so hard on this issue.

It's a big victory, well-earned.

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America is Best When Labor is Strong

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 31 August 2022
in Wisconsin

electrical-workersWith Labor Day just around the corner Jeff Smith writes about the importance of organized labor and unions for our communities.


BRUNSWICK, WI - As Labor Day weekend approaches, summer is beginning to wind down. We’re taking our last chance to fish or camp for the season. Children are reflecting on their summer and eagerly anticipating the new school year.

This time of year is always an opportunity to reflect back on my upbringing in Eau Claire and remember the hardworking families in my community. I think about the great strides made in the 20th century because of organized labor. Unions knew the core of their mission is that nobody should live only to work. Every American’s job should provide them with the stability to live a comfortable life.

Growing up on the north side of Eau Claire, I had a pretty ordinary childhood. My mother worked hard to raise seven children and my father opened his window cleaning business, which he ran for decades. It was common for families to have one parent working outside the home and one in the home.

working-women-aflcioFamilies in our neighborhood were lower-middle income by today’s standards. I grew up near the Uniroyal factory. The paper mill was close and Presto was just a couple of miles north. Many of the kids I grew up with had parents who worked in one of these places. Their parents could support their family because they earned union wages and benefits. That era was the height of a comfortable working class that made America prosperous.

Many of the families were able to afford fishing boats, camping trailers and cabins on the lake. My neighbors were able to spend more time doing the things they enjoyed with their families because of their union wages and benefits. My family was not supported by these union wages and benefits and so we did not have the same opportunities.

The union jobs in our community provided my neighbors a chance to feel secure in their lifestyle and build Eau Claire’s middle class. They allowed families to own cabins in the resort areas of northern Wisconsin. It was common for a family to take two weeks off for a family vacation in the summer and a week off for deer hunting.

unemployment-great-depression-jobsNone of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the courage and foresight of organized labor in the early 20th century that advanced workers’ rights in America. Federal legislation, including the Occupational Safety & Health Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and Labor Relations Act supported workers, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions. The Social Security Act was revolutionary, putting protections in place for citizens of all ages. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers and unions to discriminate against individuals based on race, national origin, religion or gender.

Although there have been tremendous strides for workers’ rights, there is still more we must do for workers in our country. Too many families today need multiple jobs to get by. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 13 million Americans that have more than one job, and women are more likely than men to have a part-time job to support themselves and their families.

Union wages and benefits guaranteed most workers would have a comfortable future after retirement. The decline of unions and well-paying jobs in our country forces workers to consider how they’ll retire without a pension or 401K plan to supplement their Social Security.

jeff-smithThere are steps we can take to support hardworking men and women. We should begin by increasing the minimum wage, restoring the prevailing wage law, implementing paid family and medical leave and repealing the “Right to Work” law.

We often forget the impact of organized labor makes in our communities. Union members before us worked tirelessly to improve working conditions and living standards for all. We can’t fall behind.

As we push forward, let us remember working people and the example they set. Economic growth must benefit all Americans, not only the wealthy. Our future prosperity depends on standing up for the economic interests of working families.

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Women’s Equality Day

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 24 August 2022
in Wisconsin

women-3genThis upcoming Friday, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day in the United States. As we celebrate the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, we also recognize there is more work to be done for equality and women’s rights.


BRUNSWICK, WI - This Friday, August 26, we celebrate Women’s Equality Day and the 102nd anniversary of the 19th Amendment. I personally know and work with so many women that are influential leaders and work hard for a better Wisconsin, and I find it difficult to imagine a time when women were barred from participating in our democracy and so many other elements of our society.

Twenty states and territories extended voting rights to women prior to the ratification of the 19th Amendment through their own legislative processes, but Wisconsin was not among them. In 1884 Wisconsin women were allowed to vote on school matters, but a short five years later the State Supreme Court rescinded this small democratic participation. For the next thirty years, the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly would try twenty-one times in various manners to enfranchise women, but they all would fail.

After failing on the state level in many places around the nation, women suffrage leaders and organizations started to focus on a constitutional amendment – no easy task. Yet in May of 1919, U.S. Representative James R. Mann (R-Illinois) proposed a resolution to approve the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which was then sent to the states for ratification.

On June 10, 1919 Wisconsin and Illinois voted to ratify the amendment, but Wisconsin became the first state to approve it when Illinois was forced to vote again a week later due to a clerical error.

It took another fourteen months for the required three-fourths of the states to ratify the Amendment, and it was by no means a popular piece of legislation. The last state to ratify, Tennessee, hinged on the vote of one anti-suffragist, who nonetheless voted in support after hearing from his mother.

Eight days later, on August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th Amendment. A few months later over eight million women across the nation cast their ballots for the first time.

It’s important to note that while the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, many women of color would wait decades to be able to exercise their right to vote due to oppressive poll taxes, literacy tests and other barriers.

voter-us-electionsIt took decades and a lot of personal sacrifice on behalf of the suffragists for women to have the right to vote in the United States. Leading suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, from Ripon, Wisconsin, spearheaded the “Winning Plan” to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1916. She went on to create the League of Women Voters, which for over one hundred years has been focused on increasing voter participation in our democracy.

On Women’s Equality Day we celebrate how far we have come, but also acknowledge all we have yet to accomplish. In 1984 women began to outpace men in turning out to vote in presidential elections, and that gap continues to widen.

As women continue to own more of the share of the vote, voting accessibility becomes increasingly important to keep women exercising their hard fought voting rights. Every absentee voting change and every early vote change disproportionately affects women.

jeff-smithVoting rights are fundamental for all people to own a stake in their democracy, but we can’t ignore the other societal issues plaguing women in our country. Reproductive rights, pay equity and gender bias are some of the issues that must be addressed to bring about true equality.

We can and must do better for women. Huge strides in advancement over hundred years ago should give us the courage to take the big steps today for equality. I hope you will join me in celebrating Women’s Equality Day with reflection and renewed action for the rights of women across Wisconsin.

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Fix the System with Final-Five Voting

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 17 August 2022
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsSen. Jeff Smith writes about Final-Five Voting, how it works and how it can improve our current political system.


BRUNSWICK, WI - Last week, Wisconsin voters showed up to vote on Primary Election Day. Nearly 26% of Wisconsinites over the age of 18 turned out to vote in the August 9th election– the highest in 40 years. The fact that just a quarter of eligible voters showed up and it’s considered a record turnout really says a lot about our electoral system.

General elections typically see greater turnout, of course. But by the time we even get to the general election, we’re left with two candidates selected by a small percentage of the population. Moreover, these candidates are usually on opposite sides of the political spectrum, leaving very little room for compromise on the campaign trail.

People are tired of the status quo and want to see this broken system fixed. They want to know their elected officials are working for them. Politicians should be held accountable for their job performance.

We can accomplish this through Final-Five Voting.

Final-Five Voting will reform the electoral process to ensure candidates are listening to voters and actually delivering on their promises. This session, I introduced legislation with a bipartisan group of legislators to establish the Final-Five Voting process for U.S. Senate and Congressional elections in Wisconsin.

There are two key changes to implementing Final-Five Voting. First, all candidates run on a single ballot, regardless of party affiliation. Currently in a primary election, a voter must choose to only vote on a Republican or Democratic portion of his or her ballot— as we saw last week.

Under the Final-Five model, all candidates are listed together. Voters then select their favorite candidate. When the votes are tallied, the top-five candidates advance to the general election, no matter which party they represent.

The second key change happens during the general election, when voters are asked to rank their choices of the top-five. Voters pick their favorite, just like always. If they want to, they can pick their second choice, third choice, and so on using a ranked-choice voting ballot. The first-place votes are then counted. If one candidate gets over 50% of the vote, the election is over and that candidate wins.

If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the votes are counted again once the last-place candidate is eliminated. If your first-choice candidate was eliminated in the first round, your single vote is transferred to your second-choice. This method repeats until one candidate gets over 50%, which could happen in the second round or after four rounds.

Think about what could happen if all candidates, regardless of party, were on the same ballot and had to go through the Final-Five voting process. Candidates would be required to engage in civil debate and appeal to a broader audience. I doubt we’d see the same extreme gridlock and political attacks that are all too frequent today.

Despite what some may think, Final-Five Voting does not push all candidates to become more moderate. In reality, it creates an opportunity for voters to hear a diverse array of ideas and candidates can proudly stand behind their platform. I know many of us can agree how refreshing of a change this would be.

jeff-smithI’m excited to hear support for Final-Five Voting from my constituents. Many of them have seen how polarizing our elections have become and the damage that’s done to our democratic republic.

Here in western Wisconsin, there’s a local grassroots organization in Pierce County working to inform neighbors about Final-Five Voting. You may see volunteers at the local fair or farmers’ market; stop by and learn more!

The November General Elections are a few months away, but sadly, many electoral decisions were already made last week during Primary Day. Final-Five Voting promotes engaging policy discussion, which is what voters want to hear.

Our democratic republic doesn’t work without citizens getting involved. The more voices and perspectives that participate in our political process, the better.

Final-Five Voting makes sure our leaders are truly working for the people they’re running to represent … I think this is an idea we can all stand behind.

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Farmers’ Market for All to Enjoy

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 10 August 2022
in Wisconsin

farmers-market-gbJeff Smith writes about farmers’ markets happening across Wisconsin and all one can enjoy by visiting a local market.


BRUNSWICK, WI - As Wisconsinites, we know we have something special that many of our neighboring states envy—and, no, I’m not just talking about our Green Bay Packers. We’re fortunate to live in a state with strong agricultural roots and a deep appreciation for farm-fresh goods.

There’s no better way to support our farmers and enjoy some fresh finds than by visiting a farmers’ market in your area. A farmers’ market is a community staple for so many all over the state, bringing together local vendors, families, and even local artists.

This week is National Farmers’ Market Week, and with over 300 farmers’ markets regularly held in Wisconsin, I can think of just the way to celebrate.

Farmers’ markets only happen because of our family farmers. They work hard every day to grow healthy fruits and vegetables that you can find at the market. You can also discover fresh cheeses and meats they’ve helped produce. It’s rewarding to spend time talking with farmers and learning about their business, family history, farming practices, and exactly where your food is coming from.

Farmers’ markets help Wisconsinites access fresh, quality products to feed their families. It’s important that fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods are available to the community. I’m glad to see there have been steps taken to improve accessibility for Wisconsinites while also benefiting our farmers.

There are many farmers’ markets in our state that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to make sure Wisconsin families have a quality source of fresh, healthy foods. In our region, the downtown Eau Claire Farmers’ Market, the St. Croix Farmers’ Market and West CAP Farm Market Program in Menomonie accept SNAP benefits. A full list of participating markets and vendors can be found at fns.usda.gov.

farmersmarketThe size of Wisconsin’s farmers’ markets ranges throughout the state. Did you know the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country is right here in Wisconsin? That’s something to be proud of.

This is one of the best times of year to head to a farmers’ market, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Travel Wisconsin compiled a list of farmers’ markets around the state to make it easy to find a market in your community or help plan a trip to a market you haven’t been to yet.

No matter your location, your age or reason for showing up at a farmers’ market, there’s always something there for you!

Many people are on a mission at the farmers’ market to find ingredients to try a new recipe or create a family favorite. Some folks enjoy leisurely walking around the market with a friend and checking out all that’s available. You’ll typically find kids on the look-out for a delicious treat, or fresh, squeaky cheese curd. At some markets in the state, you’ll see vendors selling beautiful handmade artwork and unique home goods.

jeff-smithI’ve had the chance to stop by many farmers’ markets in western Wisconsin over the years and I’ve never been disappointed in what I’ve found. Be sure to stop in Trempealeau for fresh vegetables, beautiful flowers in River Falls, delicious baked goods in Whitehall or tasty cheese in Ellsworth. And that’s just the beginning!

The Wisconsin Farmers Market Association is a great organization that shares the dates, times and locations of your local markets. They also have helpful food facts on their website, wifarmersmarket.org, which can help you learn when fruits and vegetables are in season, when they’re ripe and how to best store them. Consider checking this website out before stocking up on fresh food and after you’ve made it home.

This summer, I’ve had the chance to stop at the Whitehall market and the Eau Claire farmers’ market in Phoenix Park and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m happy to see the community coming together to support our farmers, artists and entrepreneurs in such a fun, welcoming environment.

Don’t forget, there are farmers’ markets happening year-round. Enjoy your stops this National Farmers’ Market Week, and thank a local agricultural producer for their contribution to our community’s health the next time you drop by a farmers’ market!

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