Even after courts and law enforcement officials have declared that voter fraud is nonexistent in Wisconsin, Republican legislators continue perpetuating unfounded allegations of fraud, this time to call for purging the voter rolls. Meanwhile, another GOP legislator is claiming that promoting lawful registration is a blow to freedom -- at least when it involves registering Democratic constituencies.
"After recent incidents, many have justifiably questioned Wisconsin's election administration," Wisconsin state Sen. Mary Lazich (R) said in a July 12 press release. "Checking voter rolls for non-citizens is a simple way to restore faith in the process."
The "recent incidents" appear to be allegations of voter fraud in Racine, the site of the only recall election won by a Democrat on June 5. (Governor Scott Walker and three Republican senators survived their recall elections, and there were no allegations of statewide voter fraud or claims of election irregularities in districts where Republican legislators kept their seats.) Investigations into the allegations by the Racine County Sheriff's and District Attorney's offices and Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (GAB) found that their claims were unfounded. However, the GAB did find that Republican leaders making "continued, unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud tend to unnecessarily undermine the confidence that voters have in election officials and the results of the election."
Nonetheless, Lazich called for Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (GAB) to "use the Homeland Security's Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database to find non-citizens" in Wisconsin's election database. Florida recently gained access to the SAVE database, after its initial voter purge effort erroneously told hundreds of eligible voters they could not vote. However, the SAVE database is not designed to verify voter rolls and its accuracy and efficacy is unknown. "I can't imagine why anyone would argue against this common-sense plan," she said.
JoCasta Zamarripa, Wisconsin's first Latina legislator who represents a Milwaukee district with a large Latino population, felt otherwise.
She issued a press release expressing concern that Lazich is engaged in "an effort to purge lawful immigrant voters," and saying "it is unfortunate and disappointing that on the heels of the Racine County District Attorney stating there was no voter fraud in the recent State Senate recall in that county, that Republican elected officials such as Lazich continue to claim voter fraud, when it does not exist."
The SAVE database, which includes data on immigrants who are in the country legally but are not citizens, is incomplete and not intended for verifying voter registration. Because the attempted purge is happening just before the election, there is little time to correct any false matches or errors -- and because there is little or no evidence of voting by noncitizens, the effort appears to be a waste of limited election administration resources.
Allegations are "Absurd"
Lazich responded by calling her colleague a liar. In a press release accusing Zamarripa of telling an "outright lie," Lazich said, "Whether it's ignorance or intentional misrepresentation, Representative Zamarripa's comment is absurd." Wisconsin's Capitol Times newspaper described Lazich's impolitic response as being "as shameful as it is shameless."
Lazich, though, who recently headed the Senate's elections committee, has long promoted unfounded, perhaps even absurd, claims of voter fraud to advocate for imposing a variety of restrictions on the right to vote, particularly "voter ID" laws (which disproportionately impact populations that tend to vote Democrat, such as students and people of color). For example, she told the Washington Post in 2011 that voter ID laws were necessary to prevent dead voters from casting ballots, despite no evidence this had ever happened.
Her untenable position was underscored last week, when a second judge found that the voter ID law passed by Lazich and Wisconsin Republicans was an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote -- and directed at a nonexistent problem.
"Since 2004, voter fraud investigations have been undertaken by the Milwaukee Police Department, by the Mayor of Milwaukee and by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, working with various county prosecutors working through the Attorney General's Election Fraud Task Force," Judge David Flanagan wrote in his opinion. "None of these efforts have produced a prosecution of a voter fraud violation that would have been prevented by the voter ID requirements" in Wisconsin's voter ID law.
Pushback Against Encouraging Citizens to Vote
Lazich was not the only legislator to suggest their state purge voter rolls, even in the absence of fraud. A number of other states considered similar requests after Florida was granted access to the SAVE database to cross-check voter rolls. Ben Hovland of the Fair Elections Legal Network told the New York Times that "I think the amount of effort some states are dedicating to this is really a shame when those efforts could go to encouraging citizens to vote."
Wisconsin's capitol city, Madison, is doing just that. The Madison City Council recently passed an ordinance requiring that landlords provide voter registration forms to tenants when they move in. Madison is home to the state's largest university and around half the housing units in the city are rental units, and a large percentage of those units turn over every year -- and in many cases, students or other renters don't know they must re-register when moving into a new district.
Wisconsin Sen. Glenn Grothman (R), who does not represent Madison, attacked the ordinance, claiming that "one could argue that by the nature of their relationship a landlord who gives a tenant a registration form is compelling someone to vote. One could see an 18 year old college student feel they were being intimidated into voting with such a requirement."
Grothman also said that asking landlords to hand tenants a piece of paper "is sheer arrogance" as "landlords are already over regulated in this state."
"It is my sincere wish that the city's landlords find a way to strike a blow for freedom and avoid this new imposition," he said.
Grothman's true motivations might lay elsewhere. Increased voter registration in liberal Madison, particularly by young people, will help Democrats in statewide elections.