Add to the list of life’s certitudes — the one that begins with death and taxes — the absolute certainty that Wisconsin’s conservative charlatans will do everything in their power to suppress the vote. Under former Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican-controlled state Legislature, they gerrymandered legislative districts, enacted absurdly restrictive “voter ID” laws, and sought to restrict early voting.
The motive was obvious. They feared a fair fight. They understood that, in a high turnout election, the majority of voters would reject the snake oil they’re peddling. So they went big for suppression, gaming the rules in ways that were particularly damaging to minority turnout.
In 2016, it worked. “Denying the black vote is a national tradition, and was a key factor in the outcome of the 2016 presidential election,” explained Michael P. Jeffries, an associate professor of American studies at Wellesley College, in a 2018 review of voter suppression schemes. “A new voter ID law in Wisconsin led to the lowest voter turnout in the state in 20 years. A study published by the University of Wisconsin Elections Research Center affirmed that deterrence was especially high in Milwaukee and Dane counties, two Democratic strongholds, and that 8.3 percent of white registrants were deterred, compared to 27.5 percent of African-Americans.”
But it does not always work, and that scares the conservative charlatans. They know that there are election years when, even if they game the rules, even if they import massive amounts of money from out-of-state special interests, they can still get beat.
Consider what happened in 2018. Led by Walker, right-wing Republicans ran with plenty of money, media attention and, in several key races, the advantage of incumbency. Yet they lost contests for the U.S. Senate, for governor, for lieutenant governor, for attorney general, for state treasurer and for secretary of state.
Every Republican on last year’s statewide ballot lost. That was understandable, because the 2018 Republican slate was packed with conservative hucksters who had nothing to do with the winning Republicans of the past. While Republicans like Warren Knowles, Lee Sherman Dreyfus and Tommy Thompson won elections by reaching across lines of partisan and ideological division, the party’s 2018 slate was rigidly right-wing. Its members spouted conservative talking points from D.C. “think tanks” and campaign consultants — as opposed to messages that might appeal to Wisconsinites.
The only place where what has become of the Grand Old Party ran well was in legislative races, where their gaming of the rules could not be overcome. The Republicans kept control of the Legislature because their gerrymandering warped the map. While Democrats won 53 percent of the vote in Assembly races, Republicans retained a 63-36 advantage in the chamber.
Now that Democrats control the governorship, the Republicans won’t be able to protect themselves with extreme gerrymandering when legislative and congressional district lines are drawn based on the 2020 census. And President Trump’s troubles mean that things could go badly for them even before the redistricting process begins — as 2020, like 2018, could be a “blue wave” year. So they’re desperate.
Their latest scam reflects that desperation.
Conservatives are trying to force the state to purge almost a quarter million Wisconsinites from the voter rolls before the 2020 election. That’s a big deal because the 2016 election in Wisconsin was decided by just 22,000 votes for Republican Donald Trump, who then claimed the state’s 10 electoral votes.
Trump backers know the scandal-plagued president will have a hard time winning the state in a high-turnout 2020 election. So they have come up with an anti-democratic response to a “problem” that has already been addressed.
The lawsuit seeks to get a judge to “require the Wisconsin Elections Commission to deactivate the registrations of 234,000 voters from around Wisconsin if they do not respond within 30 days to notices sent by the Elections Commission in October confirming that they currently live at the address where they are registered to vote,” according to the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, which explained, “The Elections Commission last spring determined that because inaccuracies in voter address information provided by the Wisconsin DMV caused voters to be left off the poll book, it would implement a 12-24-month-long process to confirm that those voters have not moved so their registrations are not mistakenly removed.”
The Elections Commission is attempting to address the issue in a responsible way. While we still think the broad threat of purging qualified voters needs more work, the longer process of review moves in the right direction. If the conservative lawsuit succeeds, however, the commission’s efforts will be thwarted. Then, based on “flawed, unreliable information,” the league said, “many voters could find their registration revoked even if they have not moved outside their municipality.”
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers was right when he said, "We should spend our time in making it easier for people to vote rather than make it more difficult.” And we hope he will turn out to be right when he said, “I'm hopeful that that lawsuit is thrown out."
That is a hope that every Wisconsinite should share because, as Erin Grunze, the league's executive director, warned, “a purge right now would amount to voter suppression.”
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