Politics, not principle, drives Scott McDonell’s PR play
Perspective By M.D. Kittle
Liberal Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell is indignant that some responsible members of the media, including the MacIver Institute, dismantled a recent voter ID “study” for what it was: junk science in support of a deeply flawed left-wing narrative.
What’s worse, taxpayers had to pick up the $55,000 tab for the politically motivated clerk’s vendetta against Wisconsin’s voter integrity law.
Last week, McDonell fired back at critics. In his rebuttal in the Wisconsin State Journal, the former Democrat Capitol staffer and rising star in progressive politics breathlessly claimed that if “state lawmakers have any decency, the photo ID law should be suspended until it is amended to ensure that all Wisconsin residents have access to the ballot box.”
If McDonell had any decency he would have questioned the validity of the study he commissioned before making a media spectacle out of it and himself. But for the partisan clerk, pushing a progressive narrative is all that matters, the facts be damned.
The Dane County Board, well-known for wasting taxpayer money, signed off on McDonell’s pet project. The clerk then commissioned University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Ken Mayer to do the heavy lifting. Spoiler alert: Mayer testified on behalf of voter ID opponents in the lawsuit challenging the Voter ID law.
To call the results questionable doesn’t quite cover the failings of this study.
Out of 2,400 surveys mailed to people who were registered to vote in the November 2016 election but did not cast a ballot, only 293 were returned – 75 from Dane County respondents, 213 from Milwaukee County, and five whose home counties could not be identified.
Of the paltry number who responded, the percentages work out to only five people claiming they did not have adequate photo ID as their main reason for not voting. Five. Four people said the main reason they didn’t vote was that they were told at the polling place their ID was inadequate.
“That’s not sufficient for a ballot poll. That’s too small a sample to give you any validity,” national election law expert Hans von Spakovsky, told MacIver News Service.
Coincidentally, the survey included 13 different reasons why these voters opted not to cast a ballot, including that they were “unhappy with choice of candidates or issues,” they were “ill or disabled,” they didn’t have enough time, or they simply weren’t interested.
But McDonell wasn’t going to let the facts get in the way of a long-standing liberal narrative.
The clerk quickly fired out a press release boldly declaring that nearly 17,000 people were either deterred or prevented from voting in Dane and Milwaukee Counties. McDonell and the contracted researcher divined all of this from 293 responses. While Mayer told MacIver News the survey strictly examined Milwaukee and Dane Counties, McDonell and liberal Dane County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan in their public rebuttal assert “an estimated 40,000 voters statewide” were victims of voter ID.
Despite that gaping mathematical chasm, much of the mainstream media picked up the ball and ran with it – just as McDonell planned.
“Wisconsin voter ID law deterred nearly 17,000 from voting, UW study says,” blared a Journal Sentinel headline. Faithfully liberal, the New York Times published a similar narrative espousing the report’s flawed findings.
The Journal Sentinel story went on to quote a press release statement by Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson. “As the clerk who serves the largest population of African-Americans in the state, I was shocked by the numbers and am furious to see that Jim Crow laws are alive and well,” Christenson declared in a familiar line of left-wing hyperbole.
McDonell and Corrigan added to the rhetoric in their column.
“But the fact remains that confusion and misinformation surrounding the law are a de facto feature of this insidious law,” they wrote. “The photo ID law is a local issue, just as much as it is a state one. We believe government has a moral responsibility to voters to enact laws that don’t confuse and hinder electoral participation.”
That’s a much different picture than the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel painted following November’s presidential election in a news story headlined, “Few voting problems reported in Wisconsin.”
“State and city of Milwaukee elections officials also reported isolated instances of people being told they could not vote because they lacked valid identification. This is the first presidential election when Wisconsin voters were required to show residential identification.”
Wisconsin allows voters without proper ID to cast provisional ballots. They need only return with valid identification and their vote is counted. Elections officials walk those voters through the process of obtaining a free voter ID. And the Legislature’s budget committee last year approved $250,000 for a voter ID awareness campaign.
So much for pandemonium at the polls.
But McDonell’s intentions are pretty clear, and have been so for a long time.
He ran as a progressive Democrat for the clerk job in an abundantly progressive county, touting voting rights as his principal platform.
McDonell isn’t a bureaucrat doing the peoples’ work, he’s a highly partisan official with an agenda, and now he’s using taxpayer dollars to propagate junk science in a quest to gin up opposition to the Voter ID law.
The clerk was also quick to take advantage of the media’s coverage of the taxpayer-funded study, promoting the high-profile New York Times’ story on his social media channels. The Times’ headline screamed, “Wisconsin Strict ID Law Discouraged Voters, Study Finds.” Don’t be surprised when the left rolls out this headline in next year’s campaigns. Scott McDonell certainly won’t be.
Campaign pledge fulfilled – on the taxpayer’s dime, and at the cost of honest public discourse.
Chris Rochester contributed