September 27, 2022

Top Wisconsin Republican just shamefully bragged about voter suppression in his state

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It wasn’t just the Russians that helped Donald Trump to a surprise win in the 2016 presidential election.


That was clear this week as Wisconsin’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Brad Schimel, went on a conservative radio show to brag about the impact of the state’s voter ID law put in place by Republicans. 

“How many of your listeners really honestly are sure that (Republican) Senator (Ron) Johnson was going to win re-election or President Trump was going to win Wisconsin,” Schimel told Vicki McKenna on WISN-AM last Thursday, “if we didn’t have voter ID to keep Wisconsin’s elections clean and honest and have integrity?”

Schimel’s reference to “clean and honest,” in this case, is Republican code for making sure their candidates win by suppressing voting by minorities and others, which is exactly what happened in Wisconsin in 2016. 

A 2017 study by Priorities USA, which was consistent with a 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office, found that voter ID laws and other laws designed to make it difficult for voters, such as shorter voting time and fewer polling places, had a significant impact on turnout, especially among African American and other minority communities, most of which have traditionally supported Democratic candidates.

In Wisconsin, the study found that about 200,000 people were kept from voting as the result of those laws. 

Trump won the state by only about 22,000 votes and Johnson won his Senate seat by just under 100,000 votes, so both may have lost if the election had been run fairly. 

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Restrictive voter ID laws were part of a package of suppression measures passed under Republican Gov. Scott Walker to tilt the election in favor of Republicans in a state that had historically been among the most Democratic and liberal in the nation.

Many of the Republican roadblock rules were thrown out in a court challenge although the voter ID law survived, in part because Schimel has fought hard to keep it on the books.

In striking down many of the restrictions, including where and when early voting could take place, federal Judge James Peterson ruled that “Wisconsin’s voting laws discriminated against minorities and labeled the voter ID law as ‘a cure worse than the disease’ that tried to address ‘mostly phantom voter fraud.'”

His ruling did force Wisconsin to make changes to the voter ID system to allow those who have had great difficulty qualifying, such as people without a birth certificate or without a social security number, to get to the polls.

Attorney Josh Kaul helped lead the fight against voter suppression efforts on behalf of two liberal groups, One Wisconsin Institute and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, and is still battling Schimel in his efforts to keep the tough voter ID laws in place.

Schimel also led Gov. Scott Walker’s recent efforts to stop special elections from being held out of fear that Republicans might lose because of an anti-Trump vote. A judge recently forced Walker to schedule those elections.

One Wisconsin’s Scott Ross told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Schimel’s comments were a “shocking admission.”

“Wisconsin’s top law enforcement official has fought tooth and nail in court to defend a law he now admits rigs the rules to help Republicans win elections,” Ross wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Trump, of course, is also an advocate of voter suppression, although he has painted it as an effort to stop illegal voting or people voting more than once, which has been proven time and time again to be a nonexistent issue.

Trump appointed a commission to look into people voting illegally but it found there was no serious problem and was disbanded before it got very far. 

Still, Trump recently claimed (falsely) that he only lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal voters in California.

The Priorities USA study found “evidence for the claim that voter-ID laws are designed not to stop voter impersonation fraud,” reported The Nation in 2017, “which is virtually nonexistent, but to make it harder for certain communities to vote.”

Per The Nation, this matters right now because there are 87 bills in 29 state legislatures across the country that aim to restrict ballot access, and states including Iowa and Arkansas have already passed strict voter ID laws.

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“Americans’ fundamental right to vote is under attack by Republican governors and state legislatures around the country,” Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA told The Nation.

“Under the false pretense of combating voter fraud” added Cecil, “Republicans are passing laws that make it more difficult and time-consuming for average citizens to participate in the democratic process.”

Schimel is still appealing to higher federal courts the cases related to suppression that he has lost because the Republicans know exactly how they took control of most parts of the Wisconsin government and want to keep a firm grip, especially as the nation approaches 2020 when the census will determine new voter district maps for the coming decade.

Backed by the superwealthy like the Koch brothers, Republicans in Wisconsin know that while they have plenty of money and hold power, the majority of people in the state may catch on to their tricks and vote them out if the elections are run fairly, so they continue to do all they can to cling onto power at any price. 

If Democrats and fair-minded voters shrug this off, the Republicans will just keep racking up more victories, controlling more states, and passing laws that benefit the rich – such as the recent tax bill – while destroying the safety net that has helped low income citizens, the sick, handicapped, elderly and others in the years since FDR began the New Deal.

Trump on a national level and those like Walker and Schimel are determined to undo everything humane about our society while boosting business and starting more wars.

This is a fight that will never end so it is up to those who care to battle back just as hard as the big money is determined to control everything for their own benefit. 

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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