[Cartoon from here.]
In recent years Republicans around the United States have been pushing for and passing demanding new ‘voter ID’ laws. Wisconsin, under the malign leadership of Governor Scott Walker, has been no exception. Republicans claim that such laws are necessary to deal with the menace of ‘in-person’ voter fraud. But such crimes are exceptionally rare: far, far more people are struck by lightning than commit voter fraud by impersonation. And implementing voter ID laws costs money (something about which Republicans often pretend to express concern). So what is the actual rationale for these laws? It is no mystery: to suppress the ability to vote of people who tend to support Democratic candidates, such as students, the poor, and members of minority communities.
Of course Republican politicians are careful to avoid making explicit the fact that voter ID laws are about disenfranchising their political opponents. But following last Tuesday’s election in Wisconsin, one especially nasty and dim-witted congressman, Glenn Grothman, noted that voter ID would help the GOP in Wisconsin this November: “now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well." Apparently Grothman forgot that he was not supposed to explain the real reason for Wisconsin’s voter ID law on television!
At the same time, former Republican Todd Albaugh explained that he had abandoned the Wisconsin GOP in disgust in 2011 over precisely this issue:
“[T]his was the last straw: I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters. Think about that for a minute. Elected officials planning and happy to help deny a fellow American's constitutional right to vote in order to increase their own chances to hang onto power.”(There is an interview with Albaugh here. And for an amusing takedown of these kinds of laws, check out this video by Seth Myers.)
Of course, the voter ID disenfranchisement strategy is but one symptom of Wisconsin’s collapse as a legitimate democracy under the Republican Party. The judicial election on Tuesday was pretty much decided by ‘dark money’ spending, which favoured the right-wing homophobe (and winner) Rebecca Bradley by 4:1.
Every day I find myself stunned (at least for a few moments) at how badly this state has declined since I began my job at UWM in 2008. It has been transformed from a reasonably politically progressive place (at least for an American Midwestern state) – one with strong anti-corruption institutions and laws, and the best protections of academic freedom within the country – into a corrupt, plutocratic, economically stagnant backwater with only faux tenure for professors within the UW system. The ‘Wisconsin Idea’ and the legacy of ‘Fightin Bob’ LaFollette and other Wisconsin progressives have been thoroughly shredded.