Restricted access to the State Capitol is in its third month now. All the doors at six of the eight ground-floor entrances to the building remain locked during normal business hours. The two that are open change periodically. Visitors wandering outside searching for an unlocked door have become a common sight.
Once you find one of the unlocked entrances, yellow crime scene tape herds you through a security checkpoint complete with a walkthrough scanner. This morning there were five uniformed officers at one of the checkpoints, standing there with nothing to do as traffic coming into the building was exceptionally light. A dubious use, to say the least, of state patrol personnel at a time when we are told the state is broke.
The waste of taxpayer money aside, exactly what threat is this tight security guarding against? The scene at the Capitol this morning was positively tranquil. Even at the height of mass demonstrations in February and early March, there were no legitimate security concerns. Protesters were remarkably civil and peaceful. They also were respectful – bordering on reverential – of the Capitol grounds. There was nary a scratch to be seen on the building's innards or on its exterior walls. The administration lied about the cost of repairing damage.
In the 30 years I have worked in or around the Capitol, I have seen tightened security only once before and that was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even then, both the manpower and technology employed paled in comparison to what we are seeing now. And the duration of the heightened state of alert after 9/11 was much more brief than today's.
What state of emergency exists to justify continued restriction of public access to the people's house? Why are ordinary taxpaying citizens still being made to feel like enemies of the state when visiting their own State Capitol?
If nothing else, a locked-down Capitol building is a fitting metaphor. After all, those elected to represent us there are moving at breakneck speed this week to ram through a new law that, in the name of security, will make it a little more difficult for all of us to vote and a lot more difficult for some.
Those most burdened by a new requirement to produce photo identification in order to exercise the right to vote include the elderly, the young, the poor and racial minorities. According to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of U.S. citizens – more than 21 million people – do not have government-issued photo identification. Both senior citizens and young people are significantly less likely to possess photo ID. Eighteen percent of citizens over the age of 65 and between the ages of 18 and 24 do not.
According to the Brennan Center's findings, 15 percent of people earning less than $35,000 a year lack a valid government-issued photo ID. And African Americans are three times less likely than whites to have such identification. Twenty-five percent of African American voting-age citizens do not have a photo ID compared to only 8 percent of white voting-age citizens.
As with the Capitol lockdown, the push for voter ID begs the question: Exactly what threat is this security measure guarding against? By any measure, voter fraud is exceedingly rare in Wisconsin, nearly to the point of being nonexistent. There have been only a handful of documented cases in Wisconsin, and not one has involved the kind of identity fraud that a photo ID requirement could presumably prevent.
What state of emergency exists to justify this discriminatory restriction of public access to the ballot box? Why should ordinary taxpaying citizens be made to feel like enemies of the state when visiting their polling place?