Why Republicans Love Photo ID
It may not make a huge difference in the vote. Just enough to win.
Much was made of Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman’s prediction that a GOP presidential candidate may finally prevail in Wisconsin in November because “Now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference,” as he told WTMJ-4’s Charles Benson.
But Democrat Barack Obama won the state by 213,000 votes in 2012 and by far more in 2008. Does Grothman really think photo ID will prevent that many Democrats from voting? I doubt it, which is why he said it would make “a little bit of a difference.” The model for Republicans is not the Obama elections, where a black candidate drove the African American vote to historic highs (and helped bring out university students), but races more like 2004, where GOP incumbent George W. Bush lost by 5,000 votes in Wisconsin, and 2000, where he lost by 12,000 votes.
Indeed, it was only after those elections that Republicans in this state began beating the drums for photo ID. For decades before that, GOP leaders of Gov. Tommy Thompson’s generation tended to favor policies to make sure everyone votes, a stance that a veteran Republican like Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner still takes, much to his credit.
But the new era of Republicans led by Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and others, see a way to finally turn Wisconsin red, after 28 straight years of Democrats winning the presidential vote. And that’s by preventing or discouraging enough Democrats from voting.
As Todd Allbaugh, who served as chief of staff for former state Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), wrote in the Madison weekly Isthmus: “I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple voter ID bills was being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters.”
Republicans have claimed the photo ID law was to prevent voter fraud, but when challenged in federal court to prove this was a problem, they couldn’t. Republican Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen did a huge brief on the subject but as Federal District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded, “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past. If it is occurring… the defendants should have been able to produce evidence that it is.”
Vos and company argued their law was based on Indiana’s, but that state’s law allows those lacking photo ID to cast provisional ballots that count so long as the exception is affirmed by affidavit within ten days. But the Wisconsin law allows no other way to prove identity but a photo ID and those casting a provisional vote must return with such ID no less than three days after casting the ballot.
Wisconsin, moreover, built its law within a system where photo ID is much harder to get. An amicus brief filed by One Wisconsin Now in the federal district court case noted how much less accessible Wisconsin’s system is for those who lack a driver’s license and must to go to the Division of Motor Vehicles for a state photo ID. “Nearly all” of Indiana’s 140 Bureau of Motor Vehicle offices “are open five days a week, Wisconsin has only 33 full-time sites; Indiana has 124 that are open on the weekends, Wisconsin has one,” the brief noted.
That burden falls far harder on minority voters, as the UW-Milwaukee Employment & Training found. Their analysis of all motor vehicle files in the state found that “59% of Hispanic females, 55% of African American males, 49% of African American females, and 46% of Hispanic males, compared to 17% of white males and 17% of white females, were without a valid driver’s license.”
Since Wisconsin’s spring election many stories of disenfranchised voters have been reported: There’s Eddie Lee Holloway, Jr., a 58-year-old African-American man, who moved to Wisconsin in 2008 “and voted without problems, until Wisconsin passed its voter-ID law,” The Nation reported. “He brought his expired Illinois photo ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card to get a photo ID for voting, but the DMV in Milwaukee rejected his application because the name on his birth certificate read ‘Eddie Junior Holloway,’ the result of a clerical error when it was issued.”
The same story tells of Kari Venteris of Madison, who had to vote with a provisional ballot. And there’s Johnny Randle, a 74-year-old African-American Milwaukeean, who hasn’t been able to vote and the older woman in Spooner WI who couldn’t vote.
And those are super-committed voters. The real beauty of photo ID is it sows confusion among less-dedicated voters. A survey of Texas registered voters who hadn’t voted in the last election found 5.8 percent of them said they lacked the proper ID, among the seven different IDs that were legally acceptable, but in fact half of them actually had the right credentials.
The Wisconsin voter ID law included a provision that would have created an education campaign to make sure such confusion doesn’t occur, but the legislature has refused to provide funding. Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said this was because of a lack of time before the April election. So will they provide the funding in time for the November election six months from now? Not a peep from Republicans about that.
But last week a unanimous decision by three Republican-appointed judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court which previously upheld Wisconsin’s photo ID law, opened the way for exceptions. An appeal by the ACLU and others “contend that high hurdles for some persons eligible to vote entitle those particular persons to relief,” the decision noted, such as missing records and records with name mismatches. The court agreed, noting “The right to vote is personal and is not defeated by the fact that 99% of other people can secure the necessary credentials…Indeed, one may understand plaintiffs as seeking for Wisconsin the sort of safety net that Indiana has had from the outset.”
Longtime GOP operative Christian Schneider, the only regular political columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, glossed over this case in writing a column declaring that the “voter ID debate is now over.” The debate is over, he claimed, because there was a big turnout in the spring election which proves Photo ID didn’t prevent anyone from voting.
Never mind that it’s the fall presidential election, and its always much bigger turnout, that Republicans like Grothman targeted. Never mind the reports of people being prevented from voting (which the newspaper didn’t cover). Never mind that Republicans, led by Attorney General Brad Schimel, fought the ruling made by the Court of Appeals which Schneider calls “common sense.” And never mind that Wisconsin’s photo ID law refused to give the safety net for wrongly excluded voters. Schneider simply ignores all this, while declaring “The voter ID suppresses turnout’ canard… now sleeps with the fishes,” even as the court made a ruling to prevent just this from happening. Schneider isn’t just a bad columnist, he’s a second-rate propagandist.
Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals ruling may open the door to other appeals by subsets of voters wrongly barred from voting. If Wisconsin had actually passed a law like Indiana’s, no such appeals would be necessary. But Wisconsin legislators are hoping to erase that vote margin Republicans lost by in 2000 and 2004, and they need 5,000 to 12,000 suppressed and discouraged votes to get there.