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Wisconsin Voting Rights Drama Plays Out in Court

  • Ruth Conniff

Wisconsin Voter ID whistleblower Todd Albaugh in his coffee shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Bill Lueders.

You have to hand it to the liberal political research group One Wisconsin Now. Along with Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the other plaintiff in a voting rights case now playing out in federal district court, the group has laid out the whole ugly story of the Republican crusade to prevent minorities, the poor, and college students from voting in Wisconsin. So effective was the testimony at trial, it grabbed headlines and could change access to the ballot—and the even the outcome of the next elections.

The case will doubtless be appealed. A lot will depend on who would hear the case  on the United State Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

At least one judge on that court—Richard Posner—has changed his mind about voter ID and repented of the decision he wrote back in 2007 upholding a voter ID law in Indiana. He regrets that he did not foresee the pattern of disenfranchisement the law has wrought.

The outcome of the case, Posner told The New York Times, goes to show that often, “judges aren’t given the facts that they need to make a sound decision.”

Kudos to One Wisconsin Now and Citizen Action for laying out the facts.

Dramatic testimony painted a picture of the comprehensive effort by Governor Scott Walker and state Republicans to suppress voting in order to win elections during the trial before Judge James Peterson in federal district court.

It started with Todd Allbaugh, former chief of staff for Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz, who described Republican legislators as “giddy” about the potential for winning elections.

As Allbaugh told Bill Lueders of The Progressive, one of those legislators urged colleagues to pass voter ID in a closed-door session, saying: “We need to think about what this is going to do to the neighborhoods from Milwaukee and the colleges across the state.”

At trial, Allbaugh revealed the name of that legislator: State Senator Mary Lazich, a Republican who has served as president of the Wisconsin Senate.

Local election officials gave testimony showing that the restrictions have achieved their intended effect—with a decline in Milwaukee turnout relative to the rest of the state.

Professor Barry Burden of the University of Wisconsin presented extensive research on how changes to state election law have resulted in significantly lower rates of electoral participation by the very groups targeted for suppression—young, poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats.

“It’s working,” One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross summed up.

Then there were the personal stories.

Nannette Mayze of Milwaukee testified about the years-long effort she made trying to get an ID for her 74-year-old father, Johnny Randle, who grew up in the segregated South and moved to Wisconsin from Mississippi in 2011. Randle, who lived on Social Security disability benefits, applied to the Department of Motor Vehicles for the newly required voter ID card. He was denied because he did not have a copy of his Mississippi birth certificate.

After a months-long adjudication process, Randle’s daughter finally got a copy of the certificate. But because the name on his birth certificate was spelled “Johnnie” instead of “Johnny,” Randle was denied the right to vote in the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is not alone. Voter suppression is a national Republican strategy.

Thirty-three states have passed laws that make it harder to vote. And 2016 will be the first presidential election in fifty years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act.

As Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman told a local reporter who asked how Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin: “Now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well.”

The last time Republicans defended Wisconsin’s voter ID law in federal court, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, in temporarily striking down the law, pointed out that the Republicans couldn’t point to a single case of in-person voter fraud.

Yet the Republicans have continued to pursue a comprehensive, purposeful, coordinated strategy, to make it harder for people to vote.

“I don’t know any other state that has seen as many changes as quickly,” says Mike Browne of One Wisconsin Now. “It’s not just a voter ID law, it’s everything that has come together.”

The whole package of changes being challenged in Wisconsin includes making it harder to register and harder to vote, but easier to throw out ballots if someone makes a minor error.

“It’s comprehensive from beginning to end of the voting process,” says Browne.

That includes creating lines at the polls and delays, which discourage voting and suppress turnout by an unknown number of people who either don’t show up or don’t stay in line.

It’s not just Democrats who are disgusted by this overtly anti-democratic strategy. Given the history of the fight for voting rights in this country, and the express focus of current voter suppression on minorities, voter suppression makes many Republicans as uncomfortable as the public bigotry of Donald Trump.

Allbaugh had been involved with the Republican Party since he was 12. He ran twice as a Republican for state Assembly, in 2004 and 2008. But during the closed caucus session, when he watched Republican legislators “planning and happy to help deny a fellow American’s constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power,” he told The Progressive, “I left the Republican Party in my heart.”

Section: 

  • News

Topics: 

  • Democracy
  • Elections
  • Republicans

Source: The Progressive

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