A federal court is currently weighing a case that could impact the right to vote for thousands of people in a crucial swing state in this November’s presidential election.
A two-week trial examining the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law wrapped up this week, and a federal judge will issue a ruling by the end of July. The plaintiffs, a group of voters who have been personally impacted and the advocacy groups One Wisconsin Now and Citizen Action, are also challenging restrictions on early voting and the elimination of straight-ticket voting that Wisconsin Republicans have implemented over the past few years.
Throughout the trial, former and current state officials, election law experts and individual voters offered damning testimony about both the purpose and impact of the laws, which they argue suppress the votes of people of color, students, the elderly, and the poor. Here are the four most damning pieces of evidence unveiled in court over the two-week trial.
Republican lawmakers were “giddy” about voter suppression.
On the opening day of the trial, a former staffer for a lead Republican state senator disclosed that while the voter ID bill was being debated, its supporters spoke behind closed doors about their true motives. Then-Senate aide Todd Allbaugh told the court that while lawmakers publicly declaring that the purpose of the bill was combating voter fraud, they said in private meeting: “What I’m concerned about here is winning.”
Allbaugh said several Republican representatives were “giddy” and “politically frothing at the mouth” over the prospect that the voter ID law would make it more difficult to vote for those likely to support Democrats. He said the experience made him leave the GOP entirely after being an active Republican for his entire adult life.
One of the same Republican lawmakers Allbaugh called out by name, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), recently told a local TV reporter he thinks the voter ID law will help Donald Trump win Wisconsin this November.
Officials from majority-white suburbs believe inner city voters have “too much access” to the polls.
The state called up witnesses to defend the voter ID and early voting cuts, including several country clerks who support these measures. Waukesha County clerk Kathleen Novack, whose county is 94 percent white and staunchly Republican, told the court that urban districts in Madison and Milwaukee gave “too much access to the voters as far as opportunities” by offering weekend voting hours.
Madison and Milwaukee have a population several times the size of Waukesha and other suburbs, and a much higher number of working class voters who may not be able to take time off to vote during the week. The cities are also Democratic strongholds. As for the two-hour long lines some Milwaukee voters endured this year, following the elimination of several days of early voting, Novack said: “Apparently access is an easy thing or they wouldn’t have long lines.”
Non-white voters are far more likely than white voters to request a free ID, and far more likely to be denied.
The trial at the U.S. District Court featured days of testimony from officials from Wisconsin’s Department of Motor Vehicles, the main agency responsible for distributing IDs to voters who don’t have them. They revealed in court that black voters are more than five times as likely as white voters to need a free ID, and were far more likely to be rejected. Nearly 20 percent of those applying for a free ID were rejected. And of the 61 applicants whose requests were denied this year, DMV officials said, 85 percent were African-American, Latino or Native American.
While the ID itself is technically free, low-income voters may not be able to afford transportation to the DMV office, time off from work to go through the process, or the documents necessary to qualify for an ID. One homeless resident testified in court that he couldn’t afford the $14 necessary to renew his drivers license. A mother from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin told the court that her legally adopted daughter was denied an ID despite showing DMV officials two recent paychecks, a Social Security number, a completed application, a W-2 form, her adoption papers, her student ID card, and her expired Romanian passport.
According to the state, 420,000 free state ID cards have been issued since July 2011.
The state considers people who died waiting for a free voter ID examples of “customer-initiated cancellation.”
Susan Schilz, a supervisor in the DMV’s compliance, audit and fraud unit, testified that at least two voters died while their petitions for free voter ID were still being considered. Both deceased voters were black women born in Jim Crow-era Mississippi.
Schilz says she initially moved to count the women among the list of those denied a voter ID, but her boss instead listed them as “customer-initiated cancellations,” placing the blame on the women themselves rather than the state and keeping the number people denied by the state artificially low. The women had been waiting more than six months for a response from the DMV.