It was not so long ago that Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson had so much appeal for Democrats that he carried both Dane and Milwaukee counties. Thompson pushed to get 65% or 70% of the vote, but nowadays, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the parties say, “How do I get to 50% plus one?'” In Thompson’s day, no Republicans advocated for photo ID. But in this era of extreme polarization, where it’s all about getting a higher percentage of your supporters to the polls, GOP legislators overwhelmingly agree photo ID is needed. They deny it’s about creating a barrier for mostly Democratic low-income and minority voters and depressing their turnout. No, no, it’s all about combating voter fraud. That claim was put to the test in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, who heard extensive testimony from both sides before issuing an April 29 decision declaring the state photo ID law unconstitutional. Defending the law was a skilled lawyer, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who had every chance to present evidence proving voter fraud occurs. But if you read his huge final brief, Van Hollen had very weak arguments on that point. “The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” Adelman’s decision states. Testifying for the plaintiffs was Rutgers University Prof. Lorraine Minnite, who specializes in researching voter fraud. She studied elections in Wisconsin in 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2012, analyzing newspaper databases, news releases by the attorney general, criminal complaints, decisions by state courts, and documents issued by the Government Accountability Board, and could identify only one case of voter impersonation fraud. That case did not involve in-person voter impersonation, which the photo ID requirement is meant to prevent.
M.V. Hood III, political science professor at the University of Georgia, appeared for the defense but nonetheless provided more evidence casting doubt on voter fraud. Hood compared a database of deceased registered voters to a database of people who had cast ballots in the 2006 elections in Georgia, to see if any votes were cast in the name of dead people. He found no evidence of this.
All Van Hollen could offer was the testimony of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, who said there are “normally one or two [votes] per major election that remain unexplained that no amount of inquiry seems to explain.” Van Hollen contended these could involve voter impersonation.
“I suppose that’s possible,” Adelman’s decision noted, “but most likely these cases also have innocent explanations” that the DA’s office “was simply unable to confirm.” And given that there are over 660,000 eligible voters in Milwaukee County, and the DA’s office only finds two unexplained cases each major election, that’s less than one questionable vote cast per 330,000 eligible voters, Adelman noted. Landgraf’s testimony shows potential voter-impersonation fraud is so rare “that no rational person…could be concerned about them.”