Mother Jones: Wisconsin’s guide to suppressing the vote

The incidents of voter fraud, allegations of which ostensibly have propelled voter ID laws, is quite low. But the estimated number of people whose legitimate vote doesn’t count is fairly high, at least in Wisconsin, where an estimated 45,000 people were not allowed to vote in a state carried by Donald Trump by 27,000 votes.

When the measure was challenged in court not long after its enactment, Republicans couldn’t present a single case of voter fraud the law would have prevented.

But there are plenty of cases of suppression that can be shown.

Today, Mother Jones released its analysis of the election, concluding that Republicans rigged the election.

It was obvious before the election results came in last November that the new Wisconsin law was going to keep legitimate voters from being able to cast a vote.

A year ago, for example, DMV offices in Black River Falls, Amery, and Hudson were making it difficult for people to get the ID to which they were entitled.

That situation was repeated all over Wisconsin, according to Mother Jones, which also reported — incorrectly — that were was no media coverage of the problems being caused by the voter ID law.

But it’s difficult to prove whether the DMV employees around the state were simply incompetent in their application of the law — denying people their photo ID without a birth certificate even though there were provisions for such situations — or whether it was intentionally making it difficult for people to vote in the state.

“If voter suppression can work in a state like Wisconsin, with a long progressive history and a culture of high civic participation, it can work anywhere,” Mother Jones said in its story today. “And if those who believe in fair elections don’t start to take this threat seriously, history will repeat itself.”

What’s particularly distressing about Wisconsin’s law is a federal judge — U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson — saw the problem coming while overseeing the law’s implementation. And, though he called it a “wretched failure”, he still couldn’t stop what was happening.

In the trial that Peterson presided over, Todd Allbaugh, a former chief of staff for state Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican, described the discussions preceding the law’s passage. When Republican legislators debated the bill behind closed doors in 2011, he recounted, state Sen. Mary Lazich rose from her chair, smacked the table, and said, “We’ve got to think about what this could mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses around the state.” Schultz expressed concern about disenfranchising African American and younger voters, but Glenn Grothman, then a state senator and now a member of Congress, cut him off: “What I’m concerned about is winning. We better get this done while we have the opportunity.” Allbaugh testified that at least two other GOP senators were “giddy” and “politically frothing at the mouth” over the bill, including state Sen. Leah Vukmir, the board chair of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which had helped draft voter ID laws in Wisconsin and other states.

“Wisconsin may adopt a strict voter ID system only if that system has a well-functioning safety net,” Peterson concluded, ordering the state to “promptly” issue voter IDs to anyone who entered the ID Petition Process.

The state assured Peterson that voter IDs would be promptly issued and promised a “safety net” was in place. They were wrong, as the survey of the DMVs in Black River Falls, Amery, and Hudson (and 8 others) proved.

It wasn’t just the poor who were prevented from voting. The new law required college students to show an ID with a two-year expiration date. Only 3 of thirteen four-year schools had such an ID for their students.

The alleged voter suppression effort in Wisconsin is now virtually bullet proof. Its beneficiaries are now in charge of the judiciary. Its patrons are running the elections.

  • The GOP rigging an election through voter suppression? I’m shocked.

  • Mike Worcester

    As long as we have what amounts to fifty separate state elections (plus DC and the territories), this is gong to happen. Until we have some sort of national standards for voter eligibility — I know, good luck on that one huh? — this is going to happen.

    Another great example is the games being played in North Carolina, where their Republican legislature targeted minorities with “almost surgical precision” (the court’s words, not mine).

    The Brennan Center for Justice is my go-to source for information about voter suppression efforts.

    • MrE85

      Giving states the power to set the rules for a national election was one of the biggest mistakes the authors and revisers of the Constitution ever made.

      • Jeff

        Among many other mistakes. It was a good attempt at the time, but no other country has a system of government like ours. Some have tried to adopt our constitution and failed. It requires a lot of good faith on both sides to keep things running, which as we see is breaking down.

        Almost nobody uses the U.S. Constitution as a model—not even Americans. When 24 military officers and civilians were given a single week to craft a constitution for occupied Japan in 1946, they turned to England. The Westminster-style parliament they installed in Tokyo, like its British forebear, has two houses. But unlike Congress, one is clearly more powerful than the other and can override the less powerful one during an impasse.

        • I think that’s an interesting observation and yet there’s no discussion as a matter of policy on the question of whether the American experiment has failed. I think there’s an abundance of evidence at the moment that it has.

          • Mike Worcester

            When we consider that the Constitution was a series of compromises between philosophical and geographic factions, should it be surprising that paralysis occurs? Personally, I’m not a big fan or thinking we need to make major changes to that document. At the same time, I look at what we have in our modern political/governmental climate and wonder it the time to “think big” has arrived.

            Example — Should the size of the U.S. House be increased beyond the current 435 voting members? It’s been the same since 1929 and perhaps no longer represents our nation’s diversity. And fair question to this idea — would it even make a difference; or potentially make it worse?

          • Kassie

            For your example, yes we should increase the size, mostly because that helps fix the electoral college issue that gives states like Wyoming a disproportionate amount of power, except, no, we don’t need any more politicians and 435 is so big already!

          • Jeff

            If you read the article, one of the biggest and perhaps easiest changes would be proportional representation:

            Democracies work best if they are consensus instead of majoritarian democracies. The most important constitutional provisions that help in this direction is to have a parliamentary system and elections by [proportional representation]. The U.S. is the opposite system, with a presidential system and plurality single-member-district elections,

            What irritates me is that to quote James Fallows we operate our government with one hand behind our backs. It’s inefficient and counterproductive in many instances.

          • Rob

            I’m with you. I’ve seen/heard a considerable number of political and social scientists and other experts express concern about the experiment teetering – and how T.Rump is clusterf&$king so many civic and political norms – but few are making the (accurate, IMHO) assertion that we’ve had a complete and utter system failure.

        • Actually, Japan’s parliament was based – both pre- and post-war – on a Prussian model. Hence, its name: the Diet. (Pre-war, it was called the Imperial Diet.)

      • wjc

        I’m not sure the framers could have come up with any other result. They didn’t view the country as a united whole (despite the name), but as a collection of largely autonomous entities. The idea of national rules for elections would have been largely unimaginable, I would think.

    • AmiSchwab

      isn’t this basically the same? aclu where are the law suits?

  • MrE85

    A good time to remind people that every single announced Republican candidate for Minnesota governor supports a Voter ID law here. With the exception of the hyper-partisan Mary Kiffmeyer, every recent Secretary of State has said we don’t need it.

  • Rob

    Another one for the American Exceptionalism files…

  • Guest

    What worries me is at NO POINT in the whole process is citizenship ever determined.

    • Birth certificate in the case of Wisconsin.

      But one thing about voter fraud is there’s proof you committed a crime. You voted and there’s a record that you voted.

      Your comment, however, makes me wonder why people with a right to vote not being allowed to vote isn’t the thing that worries you?

  • MikeB

    Infuriating. We are losing the grips on our democracy

    • wjc

      Should your comment be in the past tense?

      • MikeB

        Nationally we are operating under minority rule. The failures of toxic leadership might be corrected in future elections but I think we should get used to the fact that will of the majority no longer describes our country.

  • AL287

    Who needs the Russians when we’ve got Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans?

  • Jim in RF

    I remember (after googling to get my dates right) that at a debate at the River Falls city hall in September 2010, the Republican candidate for the 30th Assembly seat Dean Knudson said he personally saw buses from Minnesota dropping off voters in Hudson to vote for Obama. The audience had to be shushed. Somehow, no one took any photos of the buses, which is very hard to believe. Walker just appointed Knudson to the WI Elections Commission. Absolute scoundrels.

  • Mike Worcester

    Probably too late for this now, but the Volokh Conspiracy blog at the Washington Post has a fascinating column about the Wisconsin case and an X Factor that might be it’s undoing — the Supreme Court’s seeming aversion to math.

    Also worth noting was this gem by the writer:
    COMMENTERS PLEASE NOTE: You do not have to remind me
    that when they are in power, Democrats “do the same thing.” I recognize
    that; that is precisely what makes this case so important. Power will
    attempt to entrench itself by all possible means, and that is as
    objectionable when coming from either direction on the political
    spectrum. This is not a partisan issue; it is one that anyone who cares
    about democratic processes should care about; if it’s not your ox being
    gored today, it will be tomorrow, I promise you.