Voter Suppression Measures on Trial in Walker’s Wisconsin
by David Armiak
MADISON — The second day of a trial over a raft of measures implemented by Wisconsin’s GOP to restrict voting rights in the state commenced Tuesday in Madison in federal court with the testimony of Dr. Barry C. Burden, UW-Madison Professor of Political Science and Director of the Elections Research Center. The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson and is expected to last nine days.
Prof. Burden, an expert on American electoral politics and representation, was asked many questions on a report he wrote on the impact of the multiple changes on voting in Wisconsin. The report was completed in December of 2015, so data of the recent 2016 primary was not included.
Burden asserted that cumulatively the changes disproportionately “impact Blacks, Latinos, young people, and Democrats” and likely violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
Burden testified that research shows that citizens with more resources can easily overcome hurdles to voting while those with less have more difficulty in doing so. He highlighted education as being a strong indicator on whether someone is likely to vote or not. In Wisconsin, the graduation rates are: 93% for Whites, 78% for Latinos, and 66% for Blacks. Since those who graduate high school are more educated and will have a better shot at securing a career, Whites will have an easier time dealing with the voting changes than Latinos or Blacks. Unemployment rates for 2014 in the state support his argument. Burden stated that 4% of Whites, 9% of Latinos, and a staggering 20% of Blacks were unemployed in 2014.
Burden also argued that the current laws in Wisconsin dedicate early voting resources unfairly because they are based on municipalities and not population delivering a “double-whammy” to minority groups.
For example, a town with 40 people living in it gets one early voting center just as the city of Milwaukee gets one early voting center. While this is uniform across cities, it is not uniform among voters. Cities with higher populations like Milwaukee will face greater difficulties in serving early voters than those with smaller populations. Since the vast majority of Blacks and Latinos in Wisconsin live in (or around) urban areas, this change in early voting affects them disproportionately, Burden claimed.
The testimony makes clear that “Voter ID and the rest of the election law changes perpetrated on voters by Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP were about giving themselves an unfair advantage by suppressing the votes of groups like minorities,” said One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross.
ALEC Legislators “Giddy” About Voter Suppression Potential of Voter ID
The expert testimony followed Monday’s bombshell statements by Todd Allbaugh, a former Republican staffer who worked for then-Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) in 2011 when Voter ID was proposed in Wisconsin.
Back then, Senate elections committee Chair Mary Lazich told the public it was all about preventing voter fraud: “When this bill is finally signed into law, it will provide Wisconsin voters more confidence in the integrity of their elections and will not disenfranchise legitimate voters.”
But behind closed doors at a GOP caucus meeting, Albaugh testified that Lazich and other GOP senators were excited at the prospect that Voter ID could prevent some Democratic populations from voting. “She got up out of her chair and she hit her finger on the table and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to think about what this could mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses around the state,’” Allbaugh said. Several other senators were “ashen faced” at the discussion.
Allbaugh testified that Sen. Glenn Grothman (now a U.S. Representative), told fellow Republicans, “’What I’m concerned about is winning. You know as well as I do the Democrats would do this if they had power … so we better get this done while we have the opportunity.”
Albaugh said that Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and then-Sen. Randy Hopper, (R-Fond du Lac) were “giddy” and “politically frothing at the mouth” at the prospect of the law’s passage.
Vukmir is the national chair at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC). Enacting burdensome photo ID or proof of citizenship requirements to vote has long been an ALEC priority, rooting back to the days when ALEC founder Paul Wyrech told a convention in Dallas in 1980, “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.”
After Indiana’s Voter ID law was upheld by the Supreme Court, ALEC passed Voter ID as a model bill in 2009 and helped spread it to states across the nation. Voting rights have been under attack in a sustained way since the 2010 Republican wave election, as this map from Brennan Center shows.
There is no evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin that can be prevented by a Voter ID. Fifty-seven allegations of voter fraud in Wisconsin were reported between 2000 and 2013, with no convictions for voter impersonation fraud, according to a study Burden cited by a group based at Arizona State University.
The changes to Wisconsin’s voting law are having their intended impact. On Monday, City of Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Neil Albrecht testified that there had been a significant rise in the percentage by which voter turnout percentages in the City of Milwaukee trailed the rest of the state from elections in Spring 2008 to Spring 2016, jumping from less than two percent to nearly ten percent.
The lawsuit filed by One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, and six individuals is expected to last 9 days. If Judge Peterson’s ruling is appealed, the case will be heard by the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago. Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit wrote the opinion conditionally approving Indiana’s Voter ID law, but he has changed his mind, writing in 2014 about Wisconsin’s Voter ID law:
“There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” More specifically, photo ID laws are “highly correlated with a state’s having a Republican governor and Republican control of the legislature and appear to be aimed at limiting voting by minorities, particularly blacks.”
Follow the news from the trial at @onewisconsinnow.
Originally published at www.prwatch.org on May 17, 2016.