Rep. Samba Baldeh (D-Madison) is the first Muslim serving in the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Office of Rep. Samba Baldeh
A battle over voting rights is blazing across the country and nowhere is it hotter than Wisconsin, where Republicans in the Assembly have introduced more than 20 bills that increase restrictions on voting.
Wisconsin bills include measures that shorten the period for early voting, reduce polling hours and locations and drop boxes, tighten voter ID laws, make it illegal for nursing home employees to assist residents in casting absentee ballots, and severely restrict who can deliver an absentee ballot for someone else. Some bills impose felony charges for assisting others in voting.
Opponents of these bills say they make it difficult for people with disabilities, the elderly, poor people and those in communities of color to be able to exercise their right to vote.
Wisconsin Rep. Samba Baldeh (D-Madison), the state’s only Muslim legislator, sat down with The Wisconsin Muslim Journal this week and shared his views from the frontlines.
What is your position on the bills that would place additional restrictions on voting?
Obviously, I am voting against all of them. Every bill that restricts people’s ability to vote—from limits on early voting and drop boxes, to bills that force people to have identification before they vote, bills that target senior citizens and other people who are not able to get to the polling station on the day of voting—I am against all those kinds of bills.
But the reality is the Assembly is controlled by Republicans. They will pass those bills whether we vote for them or not. My hope is that the governor will veto them.
You have called these bills “dangerous.” Why?
They target the elderly, disabled people, students and residents of nursing homes. They also restrict the number of days people can vote before the elections. Some of them include penalties, creating a situation at polling stations where poll workers who assist someone with a problem can be charged with a felony.
The reason they are dangerous is because they threaten a fundamental pillar of democracy – the access to the ballot box. America is based on democratic principles. People must be able to vote for any democracy to succeed. Some of these bills not only restrict the vote but find a way to put people in prison.
In big cities like Milwaukee and Madison, where people of color reside, the lines at the polls can be very long. To restrict the number of polling stations or use of drop boxes is dangerous because it disenfranchises people.
If people’s votes are taken away, then they cannot hold elected officials accountable. If we call ourselves a democracy then people have to be able to vote and hold their representatives accountable.
We keep playing these dangerous games while the rest of the world is moving on. We need to focus on what is important.
How important is the 2022 gubernatorial elections?
We must re-elect this governor [Gov. Tony Evers]. That is the only thing between us and these bills. If he is not there, we will be the craziest state in the whole United States. We cannot let that happen.
If Republicans win the governor’s office, that’s it. Game over. That governor will sign these bills and it is unimaginable what happens next.
In June, a bill you co-authored was introduced that aims to remove party bias from the once-a-decade drawing of legislative and congressional districts. What do you hope it achieves?
We cannot call ourselves democratic if our processes are not democratic. This bill requires an independent body to redraw district lines. I am all for a body that is independent of the political process to demark our districts.
There is already a commission that was formed by the governor. But the Republicans hired their own firm to do this. This is what they did last time.
We [Democrats] came into the game late. Republicans have been working on it very hard and have been very brutal in killing our participatory democracy. They will pass whatever bills they write about redistricting because they are the majority, no matter what we say or how we vote. Democrats were late waking up to this reality. But the good thing is that the governor is there to do what is right to ensure our democratic principles are in place.
We have to fight this to the end. And if it gets to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where the majority are Republican, I hope they will do what is right and what is fair. This issue has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats, it has to do with what makes our democracy a true democracy.
What can we as concerned citizens do?
You need to call your representatives, Democrats and Republicans.
These issues we deal with in the political domain have serious impacts in our daily lives. Everyone should reach out to our politicians and talk to them about what we think should happened and then we hold them accountable.
Bills have been introduced at the national level to counter the restrictions passed by many Republican-controlled states although one of them, the For the People Act recently failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to be brought up for debate in the U.S. Senate. (The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is still pending.)
What can we do to support such nationwide steps?
Call our senators, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson. Let them know what you want.