March against voter suppression (photo from Flickr)
The outrageous decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to limit early voting in Wisconsin was a gift to Wisconsin Republicans.
The three-judge panel — all appointed by Republicans — overturned the decision by Judge James Peterson of Madison, who had ruled that parts of the Voter ID law limiting early voting were unconstitutional because they were aimed at reducing African American turnout.
“This record does not support a conclusion that the legislators who voted for the contested statutes cared about race; they cared about voters’ political preferences,” wrote Judge Frank Easterbrook.
Easterbrook ignored the testimony of Todd Albaugh, who was Republican Sen. Dale Schultz’s chief of staff. Right after the Voter ID law passed, Albaugh described some of the Republican Senators as “giddy” because they were going to make it harder for African Americans and young people to vote. Easterbrook also ignored Peterson’s observation that the Voter ID restrictions on early voting were designed “to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.”
Easterbrook didn’t see them as African Americans. He just saw them as Democrats. And he seemed perfectly comfortable letting elected officials rig voting rules to give themselves an advantage.
“If one party can make changes that it believes help its candidates, the other can restore the original rules or revise the new ones,” he wrote.
That statement is either embarrassingly disingenuous or hopelessly naïve.
Because the party that’s not in power has a much more difficult time gaining power after the rules have been rigged against it, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin after the grotesque gerrymandering that the Republicans pulled off in 2011.
But for the cynical three-judge panel, it’s all just part of the game.
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The biggest effect of this decision is to limit early voting across Wisconsin to the last two weeks before the election. Democratic strongholds, like Madison and Milwaukee, were offering more time for early voting.
While I’m disgusted by this ruling, I’m not in despair over it. Not by a long shot. Because there are tremendous grassroots groups working all over the state to register voters, to encourage voters to get an absentee ballot, and to work with municipal clerks on ensuring that there are plenty of places to vote early, even within the now-limited two-week period.
The trick, played by Republican legislators and redeemed by this biased appellate court panel, won’t be enough this time around to deter voters in Wisconsin from turning out in huge numbers.
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