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Christian Schneider and I have been arguing on the Internet about voter ID since the stone age of blogging, back when readership was small and the cliche about pajamas was really true – I did most of my blogging back then between 5 and 6 in the morning, after all.
That linked post, from the dark recesses of 2007, was about Schneider and the rest of the local conservative commentariat (including my now-colleague here at OnMilwaukee Jessica McBride) justifying Wisconsin Republican legislators' attempts to pass a voter ID law. They didn't get that done in 2007, but eventually got it through the legislature and (mostly) through the courts. This month's big presidential primary election is the first major test of how well the law worked.
How well the law worked depends on who you ask. According to Schneider, "the voter ID debate is now over," with his side having won. On the other side, we're not so sure; the legal battles, at least, aren't over yet, something even Schneider acknowledges. And no wonder – there are potentially thousands of voters like Eddie Lee Holloway.
Holloway couldn't vote this month, not because he lacked sufficient get-up-and-go to get an ID (read his story; he lasted a lot longer than I would have!) but because the system is already stacked against the Holloways of this world, and voter ID laws simply add disenfranchisement to the list.
Schneider's point is that because Wisconsin had high turnout for an election of this kind, it's evidence that voter ID laws do not, in fact, suppress votes. As I noted here last week, two important caveats to that high turnout apply.
One is the obvious fact that primary voters are different from regular election voters: they're more likely to be engaged in their parties' politics, up on the news and imbued with other characteristics that undoubtedly correlate strongly with being the kind of person who has a drivers license or passport or other official photo ID. Sure, we had high turnout for a primary, but the 700,000 or so voters who cast ballots on April 5 are less than a quarter of those who voted in the federal elections in November 2012 or 2008, so the real test is yet to come.
The other is that for Democrats, turnout was down over 2008. Schneider doesn't acknowledge that. Holloway, for example, was a 2008 voter, and though I don't know for sure, Holloway probably didn't vote then for John McCain. Can the voter ID law account for all 100,000 missing Democratic primary votes compared to 2008? No, but we are able to say with certainty that it accounts for at least one more than zero.
More importantly, Schneider misses a big, fat, flashing neon sign of an obvious point: If voter ID laws were really intended to combat voter fraud, and this past election had both voter ID in place and record turnout levels, isn't that actually proof instead that the right's voter-fraud thesis was, is and has always been a big fat lie?
This is what Schneider and I were fighting about in 2007. Even then, it was obvious to anyone with access to actual data, rather than nightmares from the fever-swamp that is conservative media, that voter impersonation and other kinds of in-person voting fraud are vanishingly rare. Yet to listen to Schneider's side tell it – then as they did during the more recent stretch when they successfully passed the bill – every election comes with tens of thousands of fraudulent Democratic votes.
The current Republican National Committee chair, Wisconsin-rooted Reince Priebus, in 2012 claimed for example that there could be as many as 60,000 fraudulent votes cast in Wisconsin elections for Democrats. Shortly after, Wisconsin was invaded by an army of Texans, convinced by reports from right-wing media that massive Democratic voter fraud was undoubtedly real and about to happen in recall elections across the state.
Schneider, of course, is guilty of pushing the myth. What he wrote, and what I responded to, in 2007 is lost to link-rot, but available on the wayback machine. Schneider gives a hearty "well said" to a reader who emailed claims with no evidence that it's "nonsense that voter fraud isn’t happening." But you don't have to go back to 2007 and the Internet's archivists to find Schneider embarrassing himself with claims of massive Democratic voter fraud.
Here he is in 2011 at National Review, for example, saying "the areas where vote fraud is most likely to occur are also those where it is least likely to end in prosecution. Vote fraud is most prevalent in big cities with large populations – which are almost uniformly represented by Democratic district attorneys." We hear you, Christian; you believe black people are the real criminals.
Hey, if you think I'm reading something racist into those two sentences, read the rest of what he wrote there at National Review. You'll see what I mean. Even the reader email from 2007, the one he called "well said," compared voter fraud to, of all possible crimes, graffiti. Wisconsin's Republicans and conservative politicians have never been shy about squarely blaming African Americans in Milwaukee for this non-existent crime of voter fraud.
So Schneider's big contention is that voter fraud not only exists, it exists most strongly in cities full of black people and policed by Democratic district attorneys. He's wrong, by the way.
Still, using Schneider's logic, the turnout in the Wisconsin April primaries should have been down in Milwaukee and Madison since all the fraudulent voters would be forced to stay home and contemplate other crimes, like tagging the local Kwik-E-Mart. Is that what happened on April 5?
Of course not! Milwaukee's turnout was even compared to 2008, and Madison's was significantly higher, even as statewide Democratic turnout was down.
Is there even a word of that in Schneider's recent column declaring the voter ID debate "over"? No. Indeed, the whole lot of them, from party chair Priebus to radio squawker Charlie Sykes to Schneider, have been starkly silent on why voter ID in this month's election didn't magically provide the long-sought evidence that Wisconsin did indeed suffer from massive past voter fraud.
It's because the fraud was never real in the first place. I've been trying to tell them that for a decade now, what with all my science and data and comprehensive studies of voting done both in Wisconsin and nationally that have never, ever – even when led by Republicans – found any kind of wide- or even narrow-spread fraudulent voting scheme that would have been stopped by voter ID laws. Not a single one.
In making the case for strict voter ID laws, Republicans and their media shills like Schneider always used to say that every fraudulent vote cancels out a legal voter, the implication being that good Republican white folk, tens of thousands of them every election, were being cheated by those criminal Democratic black voters.
If Schneider can claim, as he does at the end of his recent column, that real concern about vote suppression from strict ID laws "now sleeps with the fishes" because of high April turnout, surely the argument works the other way. Actually, in that column, Schneider even cops to the suppression of voters like Eddie Lee Holloway, so I am not sure why he is so forceful, if colloquial, in his wish to kill the truth about vote suppression.
Schneider should, instead, strap some cement shoes to all his previous work trying to convince Wisconsin and the world that voter fraud is real and send that to the bottom of the sea. And then instead we can undo this voter ID nonsense and save the vote of every Holloway in Wisconsin.