Republican Admits Voter ID Laws Help Republican Candidates

Last night, Wisconsin Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman did something unforgivable for a Republican politician: he told the truth.

Here’s what Grothman told a Milwaukee TV reporter when he was asked about Republican presidential prospects in November: “I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”

Grothman is referring, of course, to Wisconsin’s incredibly restrictive new voter ID law. Amée Latour at Bustle explains that the law demands that voters show certain types of photo ID at the polls, including “different types of IDs issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the military, or colleges.” If you don’t have a photo ID with you on election day, you vote on a provisional ballot and then you have until end of day on Friday to show a photo ID to a county clerk.

Usually when you ask the conservatives who promote these kinds of voter ID laws, they’ll tell you that they’re only trying to stop voter fraud. Never mind that US District Judge Lynn Adelman found that

The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.

The only evidence even relating to voter impersonation that the defendants introduced was the testimony of Bruce Landgraf, an Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee County. Landgraf testified that in “major elections,” by which he means gubernatorial and presidential elections, his office is asked to investigate about 10 or 12 cases in which a voter arrives at the polls and is told by the poll worker that he or she has already cast a ballot.

However, his office determined that the vast majority of these cases—approximately 10 each election—have innocent explanations, such as a poll worker’s placing an indication that a person has voted next to the wrong name in the poll book.

Further, Judge Adelman insisted that voter fraud was not likely to become a problem “in the foreseeable future.”

As the plaintiffs’ unrebutted evidence shows, a person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud. The potential costs of perpetrating the fraud, which include a $10,000 fine and three years of imprisonment, are extremely high in comparison to the potential benefits, which would be nothing more than one additional vote for a preferred candidate (or one fewer vote for an opposing candidate), a vote which is unlikely to change the election’s outcome.

Even though voter fraud has been disproven time and again, lawmakers who support voter ID laws nevertheless keep banging the drum about fraud, and they throw in the specter of undocumented immigrants, too, because that amorphous threat keeps a certain subset of voters irrationally frothing at the mouth.

But what Grothman did the video above is the unthinkable: he actually said out loud—on tape!—the reason why politicians favor voter ID laws. It’s because conservative politicians understand that when more people vote, progressive policies win. The kinds of people who are likely to suffer under voter ID laws—people who don’t have photo IDs, or who don’t have the time to jump through the hoops of a provisional ballot paper chase if they didn’t know about the new laws—vote Democrat. In fact, the only hope for the two major Republican presidential candidates left is that turnout in November is so low that they squeak through to victory. Voter ID laws are an essential part of that plan.

I’m sure Grothman received a bunch of phone calls last night, from Reince Priebus and Karl Rove and whoever else is in charge of the party these days, chastising him for overtly saying what has until now been unspoken in Wisconsin. There’s a reason why they call it “dog whistle” politics: because if human ears could hear the shrill noise coming from Republican leaders, they would shrivel away in revulsion. In fact, that’s already happening with Donald Trump’s favorability ratings. When you make the subtext overt, people suddenly realize how monstrous the things you’ve been saying all along really are.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.