So how will Wisconsin Republicans try to rig the state electorate in their favor? Will they try to kill same-day registration, even though Gov. Scott Walker has sorta-kinda distanced himself from that? Will they up the ante on voter ID? Will the sabotage the GAB? Will they go for the cherry on top and rig the electoral college to reflect the vote in gerrymandered districts? Or do they have another secret bomb they want to drop?
Tough to say, but rest assured they'll try something. And odds are good that whatever they do will either make it harder for black people to vote or make their votes count for less. After all, it's been a dream of theirs for more than a decade.
Wisconsin Republicans insist that cracking down on voting, whether its voter ID or killing same-day registration, is all about ensuring integrity at the polls. They can't prove there's a problem substantial enough to justify these actions -- but trust them, there are problems out there! Glenn Grothman said just that. Fortunately, their voter suppressing compatriots in other states have been more candid: The laws are about suppressing turnout. Oh: and voter fraud is a myth.
Now one could be generous and say Republicans want to suppress the black vote because of the way they vote, not because of the color of their skin. However, there's no question this issue motivates the Republican base because, let's face it, the Republican base in Wisconsin -- many of them first or second generation white flighters from Milwaukee to Waukesha -- have less than complimentary views of black people. And I would suggest that believing, without evidence, that lots of black people vote illegally (a view regularly promulgated by Charlie Sykes as he constantly complains about voter fraud in the "central city") is racist on its face.
This case of racial paranoia is nothing new among white people in Wisconsin. Back during the 50s, some white folks speculated that billboards were going up in the south directing black people to move to Milwaukee. During the 1960s and early 1970s white flight was rampant.
Tommy Thompson won his first gubernatorial election by insisting that Milwaukee was a welfare magnet for black people from Chicago who were apparently to shiftless to work but such shrewd economic actors that they would uproot their lives and families to move north. Thompson's revolting claims were a longstanding urban legend among racist white folks and while many conservatives uphold the "welfare magnet" line to this day, all available research said it was not true.
Put in this light, the Wisconsin GOP's obsession with suppressing the black vote has a long-running and shameful pedigree.
The push to make it harder for black people to vote in Wisconsin has been going on for 12 years. As we wait for the catastrophe that will be the next session of the Wisconsin legislature, I thought it would make sense to provide a handy timeline.
2000: Al Gore narrowly beats George W. Bush in Wisconsin by less than 6,000 votes and Republicans -- including Scott Walker -- cried "fraud at the polls." Much hooplah is made about a Democratic volunteer who handed out cigarettes to some homeless men who had cast absentee ballots. There were wild claims of MU students voting multiple times, all of which were debunked. The most humorous tale was that of a MU student who, frustrated with voter fraud, said he voted four times just to show the system was riddled with fraud. He recanted.
That the Dems stole the election in Wisconsin became an article of faith among some Republicans. To this day, right wing talker Jeff Wagner will make that case. The fact that there is no evidence to support that argument is beside the point. But it was clear -- despite years of Tommy Thompson as governor -- that Republicans could not win Wisconsin in a high turnout race. And so Republicans, claiming they sought only to protect the polls, soon started calling for voter ID and other measures that they knew would reduce turnout among Democratic voters.
Between 2001 and 2004 a number of bills were proposed that would have required voter ID (page 3). Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the ones that made it to his desk.
2004: The Republican were raising the specter of fraud even before election day. Rep. Jeff Stone and Sen. Ted Kanavas were trying to get US Attorney Steven Biskupic to investigate alleged voter fraud activity in October (here and here). Then on the eve of the election, the Republicans called for the purging of 5,619 names from the rolls claiming they were potentially fraudulent based on a caging program they had conducted. (As it turns their screening model was deeply flawed). Republicans subsequently raised questions about an additional 31,000 names.
When election day rolled around, Republicans were out in force causing mischief and intimidating voters at the polls, according to testimony provided by Matt O'Neill, deputy state counsel for the Kerry-Edwards campaign (full testimony here). Despite their efforts, Kerry won Wisconsin by a wider margin than Gore did ... which only cause Republicans to cry "fraud" louder. Ultimately Biskupic conducted a long-running and extensive review of the 2004 election and declared -- much to the ire of Republicans -- that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. The Brennan Center subsequently conducted an exhaustive report that eviscerated many of the voter fraud claims. Naturally, Republicans didn't like what Biskupic had to say. Indeed, Biskupic shot down some outre double voting claims by RPW apparatchik Rick Wiley. Rick Wiley -- later to be known as the ass clown who ran the GOP's ground game for Romney -- went to Karl Rove with his concerns.
Biskupic's months-long investigation into voter fraud and his findings are never mentioned by conservatives today. Indeed, Republicans redoubled efforts to pass legislation requiring voter ID and rhetoric on talk radio got even more heated.
2006: And as Wisconsin headed into the 2006 election, Republicans again mounted another flawed and failed voter caging effort, this time calling for purging 1,600 names from the rolls. And it appears Karl Rove may have tried, and failed, to whip up voter fraud hysteria from the White House. Dems were concerned that the GOP had dirty tricks planned for election day as they did in 2004. And while the Brawler did see a tall, crazy white guy bullying voters at Washington High School until the cops were called in, there was not widespread bad behavior as Dems rolled.
2008: The voter fraud silly season in Wisconsin kicked off in March when right-wing cop Mike Sandvick leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Charlie Sykes a report that raised concerns about voter fraud in the 2004 election. Bruce Murphy, then editor of Milwaukee Magazine, called it a "stink bomb" that didn't break new ground but was meant to whip up hysteria in advance of the 2008 election. Which was of course correct and which of course it did.
Charlie Sykes predicted that fraud could determine the outcome of the election! (Since then he's said it was obvious Obama was going to beat McCain.) Reince Priebus whined he was tired of losing elections due to voter fraud. Lotsa worry about ACORN! Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen (who claimed, sans evidence, that "considerable" voter fraud took place in Milwaukee), after his office was contacted by national GOP officials, sought to purge voter rolls. This was transparently part of a national GOP voter suppression effort. Oh, yeah, the GOP sought to enlist thugs to "monitor" the polls in black neighborhoods in Milwaukee.
Of course none of it mattered as Obama rolled and crushed McCain in Wisconsin.
2010: The good folks at One Wisconsin Now revealed a voter fraud conspiracy that involved the RPW, Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin Tea Party groups. A local rich dude's foundation, with funding from the Bradley Foundation, funded billboards that whipped up voter fraud fears and arguably intimidated voters in minority neighborhoods.
And you all know what happened next. Walker won and passing a voter ID bill was an early part of his agenda to create jobs (oddly other Republican regimes across the country were pushing similar laws). Wisconsin's voter ID was notably more restrictive than those of other states -- in fact, the DMV was explicitly told to not push the IDs. And education efforts were meagerly funded, at best. The law was successfully challenged and it's now hung up in the courts (laws have been successfully challenged in other states as well). How soon the Supreme Court of Wisconsin will take it up remains to be seen.
2012: This past year saw more outrageous claims of widespread voter fraud by Reince Priebus, Charlie Sykes continued to maintain that voter fraud could tip the election and we saw more voter suppression billboards. Republican observers knew there was fraud going on, but they couldn't put their finger on it. After the fact, Alberta Darling claimed that Voter ID would have made a difference, without backing up that statement. Paul Ryan said he lost because of black people.
But it was clear to any political observer that Wisconsin, when fully engaged in an election, is a blue state. Republicans want, and will try, to rig the electorate so that's no longer true. They need to be stopped.