Voter ID suppressed the vote exactly as Wisconsin Republicans predicted
A new study of registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election found that somewhere between 17,000 and 23,000 eligible voters in those counties were prevented or deterred from voting by Wisconsin’s voter ID law.
Due to financial constraints, the social scientists were only able to study two of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, but the authors say that statewide extrapolation suggests as many as 45,000 people stayed home — or were turned away — because of the law.
Donald Trump won the state of Wisconsin by only 22,000 votes, the first GOP presidential victory in the state since Ronald Regan in 1984. The shocking upset garnered national attention and helped deliver the electoral college to Trump, even as the national popular vote went to Clinton.
The study was conducted by Ken Mayer and Michael G. DeCrescenzo, both faculty members of the University of WisconsinMadison Department of Political Science. It shows that the controversial voter ID bill — passed in 2011 and held up in the courts until 2016 — worked precisely as Wisconsin Republicans intended, by making it more difficult for targeted voters to cast their ballots.
Although voter preferences were not included in the study, the survey shows that the burdens of voter ID fell disproportionately on low-income and minority populations — precisely the targeted groups considered likely to support Democrats. While the law deterred only about 7 percent of registered voters whose household income was over $25,000, it deterred 21 percent of low-income registrants — those with household income under $25,000. The law deterred about 8 percent of white registrants, compared to almost 28 percent of African Americans.
Roughly 80 percent of registrants who were deterred from voting by the law — and 77 percent of those actually prevented from voting — cast ballots in the 2012 election.
The results prompted the county clerks from Milwaukee and Madison to issue strongly worded statements and a call for a suspension of the voter ID law. “As the clerk who serves the largest population of African-Americans in the state, I was shocked by the numbers and am furious to see that Jim Crow laws are alive and well,” said Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson.
“It is completely unacceptable that thousands of voters were deterred from exercising their sacred right to vote
due to this law. … The photo ID law must be suspended until changes can be made to restore every voter’s access to the ballot box,” said Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, whose office commissioned the study.
‘WHAT I AM CONCERNED ABOUT HERE IS WINNING’
While most Republicans stuck to the official talking points that the photo ID law was all about preventing “voter fraud” — which is essentially nonexistent — some forgot the script.
On the night of Wisconsin’s 2016 presidential primary, Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman flatly stated that Wisconsin’s photo ID law would help the GOP win Wisconsin in the November 2016 election.
When asked about the fact that Wisconsin has consistently voted for Democrats in recent presidential elections, Grothman characterized Hillary Clinton as a “weak candidate,” then added, “and now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well.”
Rep. Grothman was a State Senator in 2011 when Wisconsin debated and passed its voter ID law, so he was privy to the back-room conversations and deal making on the issue.
Those conversations came to light five years later when the bill was implemented and people immediately started having problems.
Former GOP staffer turned coffee shop owner, Todd Albaugh, was frustrated when one of his employees could not vote in the 2016 spring elections and decided to blow the whistle.
Albaugh — who once worked for Wisconsin Senator Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center — stated in a social media post:
“I was in a closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters. Think about that for minute. Elected officials happy to help deny a fellow American’s constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power.”
“A vigorous debate on the ideas wasn’t good enough,” said Albaugh, “they had to take the coward’s way out and come up with a plan to suppress the vote under the guise of ‘voter fraud.’”
Later, on the witness stand in a lawsuit brought by One Wisconsin Now challenging the voter ID law, Albaugh described the tension in the closed-door caucus as provisions in the bill were being debated.
Albaugh testified that committee chair Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, made the case for passing the bill, which made it much harder for students, the elderly and the poor to vote:
“She got up out of her chair and hit her fist or her finger on the table and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to think about what this would mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses,’” Albaugh said.
“Grothman said, ‘What I’m concerned about here is winning, and that’s what really matters here. … We better get this done quickly while we have the opportunity,’” Albaugh testified.
Albaugh named two other senators — Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, and Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac — as being gleeful over passing the bill. “They were politically frothing at the mouth,” he said.
Hopper lost a recall election a few months after the voter ID law passed, and Vukmir is now running for U.S. Senate.
ALEC MEMBERS TOE THE KOCH PARTY LINE
All four of the legislators named by Albaugh were at the time members of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Vukmir served for years as an officer of ALEC, was its national chairman in 2016, and was given its “Iron Woman” Award in 2017.
ALEC is a Koch brothers-funded outfit that develops and promotes model legislation pushing its right-wing agenda.
The organization drafted a model Voter ID Act in August 2009. The bills that followed its model were constructed differently by different GOP legislatures, but have a common purpose — to disenfranchise constituencies that are more likely to vote Democratic.
ALEC has attempted to distance itself from this ugly history of voter suppression, by doing away with its “Public Safety and Elections Task Force” and no longer touting model voter ID legislation. These moves came in the wake of sustained campaigning by the online civil-rights group Color of Change and others, but ALEC has done nothing to get voter ID policies repealed in the states where its members pushed for and passed the bills.
The partisan motivation behind the Voter ID Act comports with vision of ALEC’s founder, the late Paul Weyrich of Wisconsin, who in 1980 told a group of religious fundamentalists: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
Mary Bottari is the Deputy Director of Madison’s Center for Media and Democracy. Democracy, a nonprofit watchdog and advocacy group based in Madison.