Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

Voting Restriction Politics in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

Voting Restriction Politics in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Article excerpt


Minnesota and Wisconsin are known throughout the country as being two of the more progressive states in the Midwest and the indeed the nation. While part of this reputation is based on liberal social policies, it also comes out of an understanding that both states have exhibited many of the ingredients of "good government" since early in their histories. Because of their traditions of open government and participatory politics, the major push in both states to enact photo identification requirements for voters has puzzled many observers.

What explains such a paradox? Why would 2 of only 9 states in the nation which allow Election Day Registration (EDR),1 and which have some of the highest turnout rates in the nation, enact photo ID legislation? And more importantly, regardless of the motivations of the political elites who are pushing such bills, how are these elites able to convince the public that such a move in the opposite direction from previous tradition fits with the political cultures of the two states?

This paper will address these questions through an examination of Minnesota's and Wisconsin's political cultures. We begin with a review of the scholarly literature on political cultures in the United States associated with Daniel Elazar, and a description of how Minnesota and Wisconsin's political cultures have been characterized within that literature. Next, an overview of both states' recent legislature and judicial actions regarding photo ID will be provided, along with discussion of how the issue was framed by proponents. Finally, we will attempt an explanation of the seeming popularity of photo ID in two states with a strong tradition of political participation. With regard to the political culture of the two states, our findings are two-fold. First, there does not appear to have been a consensus around all the elements associated with the moralistic political culture in Minnesota and Wisconsin when Elazar came up with his formulation. In addition, we suggest that there has been an erosion of the moralistic political culture in both states since he first developed his typology.

American Political Subcultures

The classic formulation of political subcultures in the United States was developed by Daniel Elazar. He identified 3 distinct subcultures which serve as the "historical source of ...difference in habits, concerns, and attitudes that exist to influence political life in the various states" (1966, 80). The three subcultures discussed by Elazar include the individualistic, moralistic, and traditionalistic (1966, 86-94; 1970, 258-266).

The individualistic political culture's emphasis is on "the conception of the democratic order as a marketplace" (1970, 259). Community intervention into private activities should be limited. Most political activity is leftto professionals acting within political parties which organize the complex system of mutual obligations in a quid pro quo system of favors for political support. A certain amount of corruption in politics does not surprise the public, and they accept it as long as they receive the services expected. The moralistic political culture's emphasis is on the idea of a "commonwealth" and politics is seen as a noble activity. Government should promote the common welfare and shared interests of the public. All citizens are expected to be active participants in politics. Loyalty to a particular political party is not a high priority and indeed nonpartisan political structures and activities are seen as legitimate outlets for political engagement. There is a high expectation that government officials will be honest and work for the good of society as a whole rather than private personal gain. Finally, the traditionalistic political culture's emphasis is on maintaining the status quo hierarchy in a society. The elite are expected to serve as the elected officials. Those not part of the self-perpetuating elite are often not even expected to vote, or, in some cases, allowed to vote. …

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