The liberal group One Wisconsin Now is using the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela to call on Wisconsin elected officials – specifically Republican officials – to scrap efforts to implement a voter ID program. On Friday the group sent out a press release suggesting that Governor Scott Walker and lawmakers could honor Mandela best by stopping “their collective attacks on the right to vote.” But ironically, in South Africa you must possess a valid government-issued form of identification to register to vote and cast a ballot.
Mandela’s legacy of turning South Africa from a violently discriminatory country to a nation in which open and fair elections take place has earned him a place in world history. The South Africa he left behind has a constitution described by The Economist as “one of the most progressive in the world.” Signed into law by Mandela two years after his historic 1994 election, the document has been praised because it “enshrines a wide range of social and economic rights as well as the more usual civil and political freedoms.”
Think Progress, a liberal media outlet, praised the South African constitution while it eulogized Mandela, writing, “The truth, however, is that the United States could learn a great deal from South Africa’s constitution.”
That constitution allows for and supports a rigorous election integrity process far more stringent than anything GOP lawmakers have proposed in Wisconsin.
An October story from a South African news outlet explains in advance of the nation’s 2014 elections, “aspirant voters must produce a valid South African identity document when registering to vote and when voting.” That means procuring one of “three forms of official identification.”
One of those identification forms is new: a so-called “smartcard ID.” Although a new addition to the process, one election official said that “[a]ccommodating the new smartcard IDs has not been difficult.”
Voter registration in South Africa involves registering to vote on one of a handful of designated days or by making an appointment in advance at a Municipal Elections Office. According to the nation’s governing agency for elections, the Election Commission of South Africa, to register and vote you must meet three criteria:
- Be a South African citizen;
- Be at least 16 years old (you can only vote from age 18); and
- Have a green, bar-coded ID book, ID smartcard or Temporary Identity Certificate (TIC).
Online voter registration and voting are not allows. “You have to apply for registration and vote in person with valid ID,” reads the government’s elections website. Two of the common forms of identification, passports and drivers licenses, do not suffice for election ID purposes.
The South African system stands in stark contrast to Wisconsin’s own election system. Voter registration is always available – including on election day – and early voting in some areas extends the amount of time voters have to cast ballots. No form of identification is required to cast a ballot and proof of residency is not always required to register to vote.
While One Wisconsin Now may have tried to score a quick political hit charging:
“Twenty years after Nelson Mandela was finally able to cast his vote in a country that had imprisoned him for a generation, we see here in Wisconsin that right to vote compromised as never before for the sake of partisan, political agendas.”
They managed to turn their own argument on its head by picking as an example the leader of a nation with far more stringent election controls than Wisconsin’s.