State Sen. Mary Lazich, urging fellow Republican senators to enact a voter ID requirement in a closed-door meeting in 2011, told her colleagues to consider its impact in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and the state’s college campuses, a top aide to a former GOP senator testified in federal court Monday.
Congressman Glenn Grothman, serving at that time as a state senator, said in the same meeting that he supported voter ID because it would help Republicans win elections, according to the aide, Todd Allbaugh.
Other Republican lawmakers in the meeting appeared “giddy” at those prospects, Allbaugh testified. At the time of the meeting, he was chief of staff to then-Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center.
“What I’m concerned about here is winning,” Grothman, of Campbellsport, told his GOP colleagues, Allbaugh said.
Lazich, of New Berlin, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told her Republican colleagues “we’ve got to think about what this would mean” for neighborhoods in Milwaukee and “college campuses,” Allbaugh said.
Democrats tend to fare well in elections in those areas, including in Milwaukee, home to a large share of Wisconsin’s African-American and Latino populations.
Critics of voter ID, including the plaintiffs of the lawsuit in which Allbaugh testified Monday, have argued it disproportionately hinders voting by racial minorities and young voters who are less likely to have IDs that meet the requirement.
Monday was the first day of trial for the lawsuit, which challenges voter ID and other recent changes to Wisconsin election law.
Allbaugh’s comments Monday were his most detailed account to date of his charge that Republican lawmakers secretly discussed that voter ID would be politically advantageous to their party before enacting it. In Wisconsin, voter ID largely has been on hold since its enactment due to court challenges; it took effect in a statewide election for the first time this year.
Others testifying in Monday’s trial spoke of difficulties they encountered to get special IDs for voting from the state Department of Transportation.
One woman testified her elderly father, born in Mississippi during the Jim Crow period, was unable to get an ID because his name was misspelled on his birth certificate.
Josh Kaul, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, which include progressive groups and individual Wisconsinites who struggled to obtain voter IDs, also castigated lawmakers for failing to fund a public informational campaign about voter ID as the law requires.
The state elections board recently requested $250,000 from lawmakers for such a campaign, and lawmakers are expected to take up that request soon.
State: ‘Concrete proof’
required for claims
The state Attorney General’s office, which is defending the state against the suit, gave an opening statement in which it dismissed testimony about senators’ remarks five years ago as “hearsay.”
Assistant Attorney General Clay Kawski told Judge James D. Peterson that the standard must be high to show there was intentional racial discrimination by supporters of voter ID and other laws.
“These are very serious claims, and they require very concrete proof,” Kawski said.
Lazich, Schultz and Grothman couldn’t be reached Monday to respond to Allbaugh’s testimony.
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Allbaugh said it was apparent to him and others in the meeting that Lazich and Grothman were referring to making it more difficult for certain demographic groups to vote.
“It was absolutely clear to me,” Allbaugh testified.
Some GOP senators in the caucus meeting, including Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, and former Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, appeared “giddy” at those suggestions, Allbaugh testified.
Others, including Sens. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, and former Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, appeared “ashen-faced” and troubled by the suggestion, Allbaugh said.
Allbaugh said his boss, Schultz, interjected into the closed-caucus discussion, asking lawmakers to step back and consider the ramifications of what they were discussing.
Schultz — speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal in April, before Allbaugh fully detailed his claims — said he wasn’t present at the caucus meeting during the portion that Allbaugh was describing. Schultz also said he was “honor-bound” not to disclose private conversations that occur in a closed caucus, but described Allbaugh as “honest and trustworthy and beyond reproach.”
Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, told the State Journal last month that he had no recollection of anyone being giddy about anything related to voter ID during a closed caucus meeting.
Voter ID was made law in 2011 by a Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
First time naming names
Allbaugh’s testimony expanded on controversial remarks he made on social media on the eve of Wisconsin’s April 5 spring election. Allbaugh, also a former aide to former GOP Congressman Scott Klug, R-Madison, wrote on Facebook last month that the voter ID law was “the last straw” for why he left the Republican Party and that some GOP senators were privately “giddy” about its prospects for suppressing voting by minorities and college students.
Monday was the first time Allbaugh named names for his claim about voter suppression.
Allbaugh testified Monday that he was a loyal Republican for many years despite key differences with the party. Those included his objections, as a gay man, to the Defense of Marriage Act, he said.
But Allbaugh said the voter ID discussion was a turning point in his personal affiliation with the GOP.
“At that moment, in that room, I could not continue to stay with the party,” Allbaugh said.
Grothman drew fire from Democrats on April 5 when he told a Milwaukee TV reporter that the GOP presidential nominee has a chance of winning Wisconsin this year for the first time since 1984 partly because “photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference.”
Allbaugh’s testimony is key to certain claims in the lawsuit, which challenges the voter ID requirement as well as other recent election law changes by Walker and GOP lawmakers.
Also challenged are restrictions to early voting and the elimination of straight-ticket voting and corroboration, the process by which a voter can vouch for another voter’s residency when they register.
Plaintiffs in the suit include One Wisconsin Institute, the research arm of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund.
The trial is expected to last nine days, according to an order filed by Peterson last week.