Did Trump Steal Wisconsin?
Some point to voter suppression as a factor in this state and others.
Democratic presidential candidates had won Wisconsin in seven straight elections until Donald Trump won the state by just 27,000 votes, or less than one percent of the vote.
A key reason for that victory was the surprisingly low turnout in Wisconsin. Election officials had predicted about 3.1 million would cast ballots, but the turnout was closer to 2.9 million, or about 66 percent of the voting age population, the lowest turnout in a presidential year since 1996, as the Chicago Tribune reported.
“The drop-off in turnout was particularly stark in Milwaukee County, a Democratic stronghold,” the paper noted. Hillary Clinton “got about 103,000 fewer votes this year than Obama did in 2012.”
A big part of that was a 41,000 vote decline in the vote in the City of Milwaukee.
Another possible explanation is that Clinton took the state for granted and did almost no campaigning here.
Some, however, believe voter suppression reduced Clinton’s total. Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city Election Commission, told the Journal Sentinel “we had some of the greatest declines in the districts we projected would have the the most trouble with ID requirements.” He said four districts of the city with the most “transient, high poverty” residents experienced trouble with people struggling to meet the photo ID requirements. “We had a lot of calls” about such problems, he added.
Ari Berman, writing for The Nation, notes that in this state “300,000 registered voters, according to a federal court, lacked strict forms of voter ID” and that voter turnout “decreased 13 percent in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives.”
Berman has documented voters disenfranchised in Wisconsin, and there is considerable evidence state Division of Motor Vehicle workers were giving voters misleading information about their right to vote.
Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Institute, says restrictive voting laws could have turned the state red for the first time in 32 years of presidential elections. “I’d need more data,” he says “but 27,000 votes isn’t all that many when you think about the number of people without ID.”
The biggest impact comes not from people turned away from the polls but those who were discouraged from even showing up. A study of one Texas congressional district in 2014 found that of some 271,000 registered voters who didn’t vote, 12.8 percent said it was because they thought they lacked the needed credentials under the new law. That’s more than 34,000 people.
Clinton won the national popular vote, much like Al Gore did in 2000 while also losing in the electoral college (Clinton’s margin is now at 1.5 percent, a bigger popular vote margin than the winning candidate in 1960 and 1968). That leaves Republicans with just one popular vote victory in the last seven presidential elections. And the challenge grows worse every four years as the electorate’s Democrat-leaning minority percentage grows ever greater. It’s in this context that Republicans have passed draconian restrictions on voting in states they control.
Berman also points to North Carolina, where many restrictions on voting were passed and black turnout decreased 16 percent during the first week of early voting because “in 40 heavily black counties, there were 158 fewer early polling places.” The state’s Republican Party hailed the fact that black early voting was down as an “encouraging” sign, as the New York Daily News has reported. (Trump, however, won the state by 177,000 votes; that would be an awful lot of voter suppression.)
Then there’s Florida, which Trump won by 120,000 votes, and “has been criticized for cutting the early voting period and restricting voter registration drives,” the Daily News noted.
Florida has 29 electoral votes. Wisconsin has 10. Arizona, another state that passed voter restrictions, voted for Trump by just 84,000 votes, and has 11 electoral voters. Give those votes to Clinton and she wins.
No I don’t think it worked that neatly, but it illustrates how easily the election result could change. And the Texas study suggests voter restrictions could be discouraging and suppressing a lot of votes. However, not all those voters are likely to be Democrats.
I believe there are Republicans who are concerned about this, but they are moderates like former state Sen. Dale Schultz, who was driven out of the party.
If the concern of the hard-core Republicans who now run the state was voter fraud, they would follow the example of the Indiana law upheld by U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed those lacking proper ID to fill out an affidavit attesting to their identity.
If the concern of Republicans was voter fraud, they would have an answer to the researcher who studied every claim of this that’s arisen nationally since 2000, and found just 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of one billion votes cast.
If the concern of Republicans was voter fraud, they’d be able to prove it was happening in Wisconsin. Former Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, had a chance in 2014 to make that case and couldn’t. As Federal Judge Lynn Adelman concluded, “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin.”
If the concern of Republicans was voter fraud, current Republican AG Brad Schimel would have been able to prove it was happening in a federal case this summer. But as Judge James Peterson concluded, “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement.”
The only question is how much disenfranchisement is going on. Was it enough to throw the race to Trump in Wisconsin? There’s simply no way to know. And that’s alarming.