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Chris Rickert: Big win doesn't stop Republicans from wanting to fix what isn't broken
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Chris Rickert: Big win doesn't stop Republicans from wanting to fix what isn't broken

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Republicans delivered a shellacking Tuesday to the other half of Wisconsin’s political duopoly — and in a year with high turnout, a factor that usually favors Democrats.

Perhaps all the GOP needs to win are the right candidates, the right message, tons of cash and negative TV ads, and a questionably sourced “October surprise” story in the governor’s race.

So I couldn’t help but wonder if the party’s success has it second-guessing its support for a series of vote-suppressing, system-rigging changes aimed at improving its candidates’ electoral chances. After all, why fix what isn’t broken?

To be fair, Republicans don’t see voter photo ID requirements, limits to early voting, partisan redistricting, and changes to the Government Accountability Board as efforts to rig the system or suppress the vote.

“Your question takes the cynical view, though, that the reason Republicans support those laws is to just win elections, and that’s not true,” said Scott Grabins, chairman of the Dane County Republican Party.

But pretty much everyone knows that those least likely to have a photo ID — the poor and racial minorities — are more likely to vote for Democrats.

There’s also little evidence of the kind of voter fraud that a photo ID law would thwart.

Also obvious (well, until this last election) is that higher voter turnout tends to favor Democrats. Ergo, Democrats are big fans of turning Election Day into Election Weeks — with plenty of opportunity to vote early at your local clerk’s office. By contrast, Republicans have sought to limit the window for early voting.

Meanwhile, complaints from Republicans about the GAB’s alleged bias — mostly from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — strike me as odd given that the board’s oversight of elections hasn’t exactly left the GOP powerless.

Then there’s Republican opposition to creating a nonpartisan redistricting process to replace the current, more expensive and litigious practice of allowing lawmakers to gerrymander district lines to protect incumbents and create “safe” Republican and Democratic districts.

Democrats, previously fans of letting lawmakers draw the maps, have of late seen the light — probably because the maps Republicans drew in 2011 so favored their candidates.

In the 2012 elections, the first under the new maps, Democratic legislative candidates actually won about 277,000 more votes than Republicans. Even if you take out the races that weren’t contested by Republicans, Democrats still won close to 49 percent of the vote. And yet they only ended up with 39 of 99 Assembly seats and eight of 16 Senate seats on the ballot.

It was a different story on Tuesday, when Republicans won about 56 percent of all votes cast in contested legislative races, according to preliminary tallies.

That’s still a more narrow win than the new Republican majorities in the Assembly (63-36) and Senate (19-14) would lead one to presume, but at least Democrats didn’t have to suffer the indignity of getting more votes but losing.

I got no response from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office when I asked whether his party’s success on Tuesday might dampen some of its enthusiasm for photo ID, restricting early voting, partisan redistricting and changing the GAB.

Kit Beyer, Vos’ spokeswoman , said “the speaker remains committed to passing election reforms and the implementation of voter ID in Wisconsin.”

A local Republican blogger and a former member of former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration, David Blaska, said “voter ID was never about suppressing the vote” and he called it “reverse racism” to suggest people of color aren’t as capable of getting a photo ID as whites.

Republican strategist Brandon Scholz said he doesn’t think either party gains an advantage with photo ID or early voting, although Blaska wondered how many people voted prior to allegations surfacing a week before Election Day that Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke had been fired from her job at Trek Bicycle 21 years earlier.

As for the GAB, Blaska said some Republicans point to its role in the John Doe criminal probes into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s past campaign activities as evidence that the agency is out to get them.

Scholz echoed some of the reasons for opposing nonpartisan redistricting that Republican-elected officials have expressed, saying it’s unwise to have “somebody who is not responsible to voters making that decision.”

Still, on this, there might be a ghost of a chance Republicans will relent.

“I think that is an issue where we could find some common ground,” Grabins said. “I’m not a fan of how districts are drawn today — ideally they should be much more rectangular than the odd shapes we have.”

It’s not surprising that it takes a Republican in heavily Democratic Dane County to broach the notion of “common ground,” but it certainly doesn’t mean the days of partisan redistricting are numbered.

Democrats face total Republican control of the state for at least two more years, though, and they have little choice but to take whatever they can get.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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