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Right to Vote Turned-Away

In this Nov. 8, 2016, file photo, voters cast their ballots at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Madison's near east side. 

Wisconsin State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a laughable figure who occupies a constitutional office that he says should be eliminated, wants to punish officials who are actually interested in doing their jobs.

Adamczyk recently roused himself from the sidelines of state governance and called on legislators to penalize Dane County for allocating $55,000 to fund a UW-Madison study of how Wisconsin’s voter ID law influences voter participation and turnout.

That study by political science professor Ken Mayer has drawn national attention (and praise) because it cut through the partisan spin and revealed the stark details of how the Republican-backed scheme appears to have suppressed voter turnout in 2016.

The study concluded that almost 17,000 registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties may have been deterred from voting in a very close presidential election by a law that was intended to make it harder to vote.

That’s an important insight — one that will help election officials in Dane County, Milwaukee County and other counties statewide make determinations about how to organize voter registration, and voting, in the future. It should also cause legislators to rethink a wrongheaded intervention in the election processes of a state that, following the implementation of the voter ID law, saw its lowest presidential-election turnout in two decades.

Adamczyk labels the study of why turnout declined “a complete waste of money.” That’s not a surprising response from a hyper-partisan Republican who recognizes that the lower-turnout 2016 produced the first Republican presidential win in Wisconsin since 1988. What was surprising was Adamczyk’s proposal to punish Dane County — cutting $55,000 in shared revenue from the total Dane County receives from the state — for caring about the health of Wisconsin democracy.

Adamczyk has never shown much interest in Wisconsin democracy. He ran for a state constitutional post that should be strengthened — to provide additional oversight on state spending — and instead called for its elimination.

If the job Adamczyk now holds is eradicated, that will strengthen the hand of a governor who shares Adamczyk’s partisan affiliation. At the same time, the elimination of the elected treasurer’s position would reduce oversight and accountability. It would also undermine the ability of Wisconsin voters to check and balance the governor by electing watchdogs to other statewide posts.

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No one is going to suggest that Adamczyk is interested in strengthening the hand of Wisconsin voters. But there are elected officials who do want to make sure that voting is easy in Wisconsin, and that barriers to voting are studied and addressed.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell is one of those elected official and he argues, correctly, that the study Dane County funded has provided needed scientific data on the impact of the voter ID law.

That data may be in conflict with the partisan agenda that Matt Adamczyk so ardently embraces. But Adamczyk does the cause of democracy in Wisconsin no favors by attacking the people who want to know why voter turnout is declining — and who think that Wisconsin’s election rules should be based on facts, as opposed to partisan fantasies.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. and @NicholsUprising

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Associate Editor of the Cap Times