Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Republican legislative allies were “giddy” at the prospect that a radical rewrite of voting laws would benefit their political prospects.
So said a former Republican legislative aide who was in the room in 2011, when Republican members of the Wisconsin state Senate were scheming to enact one of the most rigid voter-identification laws in the nation. Recalling that top legislators talked openly about how the new law would impact prospective voters in the heavily Democratic city of Milwaukee, and on college campuses that have leaned Democratic in recent years—and that one legislator told his colleagues: “What I’m concerned about here is winning, and that’s what really matters here.… We better get this done quickly while we have the opportunity”—Todd Allbaugh told a hushed federal courtroom that the Republican legislators were visibly excited about what the voter-ID law could mean for them politically.
“I’ve characterized it as giddy and that’s part of what bothered me so much,” Allbaugh said Monday, in testimony on the opening day of a trial before US District Judge James Peterson.
The trial is examining issues raised in a lawsuit brought by 10 Wisconsin voters and a pair of activist groups—the One Wisconsin Institute and the Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund—charging that Republican legislators (most of whom were closely allied with Walker) enacted a number of laws that were designed to disenfranchise minorities, students, and other groups of prospective voters that often back Democrats. In addition to the voter-ID law, Republican legislators have in recent years changed the state’s primary-election date to August (when most colleges are on break and working families are often on vacation), done away with the option for straight-ticket voting, limited the period for early voting from 30 days before an election to just 12 days, restricted the hours and locations for early voting, eliminated special election deputies assigned to secondary schools, and prohibited cities from encouraging voting with requirements that landlords provide new tenants with registration forms.
The groups and the voters who brought the lawsuit allege that the legislators violated the federal Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment, and the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. “Restricting access to the ballot box was not a consequence, but rather the very purpose of these laws,” Josh Kaul, a lawyer for the litigants, told the federal judge.