Voter ID laws and the 2016 election

In this April 28, photo, Catelin Tindall holds her expired student ID from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design at Cannon Park in front of the building where she tried to vote during the November 2016 presidential election.


Give Matt Adamczyk this: As the warm body now filling a state treasurer’s office that does almost nothing, he knows about government waste.

So the Republican had not only the life experience but the time last week to rattle off a statement calling on the Legislature to cut state revenue to Dane County in an amount equal to what the county spent on a study of the effects of the state’s voter ID law. The study was “a complete waste of money,” he said, given the study survey’s response rate and heavy focus on Milwaukee County voters.

If Adamczyk’s looking for ways to save taxpayer dollars, here’s one idea: Don’t pass laws that seek to fix a problem that virtually doesn’t exist and cost way more to implement and defend than any study.

To his credit, Adamczyk was elected to office in 2014 on a platform of eliminating his office, which has been stripped of its duties over the years and now largely consists of attending two meetings a month of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. He’s also eliminated all three of the office’s former positions, for a savings, he says, of about $250,000 a year.

He hasn’t been donating a quarter of his approximately $70,000 salary back to the state, though, like he said he would during his campaign. He told me he “will probably do so by June.”

As for his work week, he said that “like all elected officials, I do not have a time sheet but I can assure you I work full time trying to find cost savings.” In an interview with WTMJ-TV last year, he said he tried to be in the office Tuesday through Thursday. Now deceased former state Sen. Rick Gudex — who was among lawmakers pushing to eliminate the office — estimated the office required about five hours of work a week, WTMJ-TV reported.

The voter ID law requires voters to show one of several approved photo IDs at the polls in order to vote. Judicial holds on the law have meant that it was in place for only one low-turnout primary in 2012 before being blocked until 2015. Last year’s presidential election was the first major statewide election the law was in effect — making it a good time for a UW-Madison researcher to do the county-funded study of the law’s effect.

The study found that almost 17,000 registered voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties might have been deterred from voting by the Republican-passed law.

If that’s not enough of a return on investment for you, consider that the study’s cost, Adamczyk’s salary and the savings from three empty treasurer’s office positions are unlikely to surmount the costs the law has foisted on Wisconsin taxpayers.

Pretty much any amount spent on voter photo ID laws is a waste, because the kind of voter fraud the law seeks to stop — voter impersonation — is extremely rare, as studies have shown. With American voter turnout numbers embarrassingly low, it’s not like people are fighting to get into the polls.

Nevertheless, last year lawmakers allocated $250,000 to educate the public about voter ID, and local tax dollars have been spent training local elections officials how to implement it. The city of Milwaukee, for example, has spent about $108,000 on training and materials, according to Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Neil Albrecht. Training alone on voter ID for Madison poll workers cost $42,674, according to city clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl.

And then there are the lawsuits. Four have been filed against the law since it was signed in May 2011, two of which remain open.

Unfortunately, the Republican-led Department of Justice does not track the hours — and thus the dollars — it spends defending the state against specific lawsuits, and so couldn’t say how much time it’s spent defending voter ID. But it seems fair to say that four lawsuits over six years adds up to hundreds or thousands of hours state attorneys could have better spent prosecuting heinous crimes and defending better laws.

“As you know, the attorney general has a constitutional responsibility to defend state law and he will spend the resources necessary to successfully defend the state’s voter ID law or any other laws challenged in court,” said DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos.

If there’s a fiscal prudence-based criticism of the Dane County study, it’s that county officials failed to get Milwaukee County to help pay for any of it. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said the Milwaukee County Clerk’s Office had agreed to contribute a small amount, maybe $5,000, but then the clerk retired.

Otherwise, anyone not speaking from a list of Republican talking points knows voter ID laws are about one thing: Suppressing the votes of people more likely to vote Democrat and less likely to have valid photo IDs — minorities, college students and the poor, among them.

To this, Republicans argue that the laws often provide help for getting an ID and that, in any case, it takes only a tiny bit of maturity, responsibility and brains to obtain one.

They’re correct. But voting is not a right reserved only for the mature, responsible and smart.

For proof, look at some of the people this country’s voters have elected — even well after the advent of voter ID laws.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.


Chris Rickert is the urban affairs reporter and SOS columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal.