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The disputed study behind Clinton’s allegations of voter suppression in Wisconsin

Clinton insists a voter ID law kept 200,000 people from voting.

Kainaz Amaria/Vox

In a recent interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Hillary Clinton made it clear she thinks some states’ restrictive voter ID laws could be to blame for her loss of the presidency in 2016. She specifically blames Wisconsin’s voter ID law:

Let’s start with voter suppression, which is one of the five reasons why I believe I lost. Compare Wisconsin to Illinois or Wisconsin to Minnesota — Wisconsin has had a concerted voter suppression campaign going on under Scott Walker and the Republicans. The AP says maybe 200,000 people were turned away. Illinois has had none of that. In fact, they’ve made it easier to vote. Minnesota is an easier-to-vote state. I won both of those. You’ve had voter suppression in Michigan. You’ve had voter suppression in Pennsylvania.

Now, that is not about me. That is about what’s right and decent and constitutional. And I was shocked when the Supreme Court threw out the guts of the Voting Rights Act. I was in the Senate, I voted for it, we voted 98 to nothing, George W. Bush signed it, and along comes the Republican majority on the Supreme Court and they throw it out, and Republican governors and legislators could not have been more gleeful.

This isn’t the first time Clinton has alleged that voter suppression happened in Wisconsin, a state she lost by 22,748 votes in the 2016 general election. In addition to her interview with Vox, she talked about voter suppression in her book and other interviews earlier this year. She said a new voter ID law in Wisconsin that went into effect under Republican Gov. Scott Walker kept about 200,000 people from voting.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law requires people to show a valid photo ID before casting a ballot. Acceptable forms of ID included a driver's license, state ID, passport, military ID, naturalization papers, or tribal ID.

The law created additional obstacles for a contingent of people to cast a ballot; it meant out-of-state students and people who had moved to Wisconsin but hadn’t yet updated their driver’s license were unable to vote if they didn’t take the extra step of getting a voter ID. People who simply couldn’t afford to get a driver’s license were also out of luck.

Voter ID laws have long been controversial, and many started getting passed after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision on the Voting Rights Act that Clinton mentions. Proponents of the laws argue they’re necessary to crack down on voter fraud, while opponents say the laws target minorities and the elderly, two groups that make up the vast percentage of people lacking a government-issued ID.

For instance, 25 percent of African Americans who are eligible to vote don’t have a government-issued photo ID, compared with only 8 percent of white voters. Meanwhile, 18 percent of people 65 or older who are eligible to vote also don’t have a photo ID. North Carolina recently had its voter ID law struck down by a court ruling that found officials in the state were using the law to keep minorities from voting.

After the election, there were many anecdotal stories of people in Wisconsin who were not able to vote because they didn’t meet the state’s new criteria.

The 200,000 number comes from a May report by the left-leaning Priorities USA Action PAC, which supported Clinton during her campaign. The Priorities report looked at voter turnout in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, showing that turnout increased by 1.3 percent in states that did not change their voter ID laws. In Wisconsin, the report found the voter ID law going into effect lowered turnout by 3.3 percent in 2016.

However, as the national fact-checking website PolitiFact and other political scientists pointed out, the methodology Priorities used to arrive at the 200,000 number was simplistic. Critics pointed to the fact that Clinton earned 200,000-plus fewer votes than President Barack Obama, while Donald Trump earned nearly the same number of votes as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

To blame it all on the voter ID laws probably isn’t accurate; other factors, like a lack of enthusiasm for a candidate, also have to be considered. Clinton lost Wisconsin to Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders in the primary by more than 135,000 votes.

While Wisconsin is tightening voting eligibility, Clinton is correct that Illinois loosened its restrictions. In 2014, the state passed legislation greenlighting early voting and allowing new voters to register in the days leading up to Election Day; state law had previously required voters to register 28 days before an election.

Kainaz Amaria/Vox

Clinton told Klein she plans to make voting rights a priority in the future:

If we don’t deal with this voter suppression, the electorate will continue to shrink. And it won’t just be the Electoral College; it will be within these states. A shrinkage of the legitimacy of our constitutional democracy. So I care passionately about this because this will determine what kind of country we have for my grandchildren. And so I’m going to be out there day in and day out, trying to do what I can to support efforts to give back voting to people, whoever they are, across our country, so that their voices can be heard and we have a democracy that really functions right.

Watch the full Hillary Clinton interview with Ezra Klein