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Democratic campaign leaders are boosting charges that Wisconsin Republicans adopted tougher election rules for the express purpose of blocking voters' access to the polls.
Democrats have long accused the GOP of pushing stricter voting laws — including photo ID requirements — in order to discourage participation by minority and low-income voters who tend to support Democrats.
But the debate has grown much louder since a 2013 Supreme Court decision freed more than a dozen Republican-led states to adopt new restrictions, many of which will be tested for the first time this presidential year.
Martha Laning, head of Wisconsin's Democratic Party, said her party's concerns were legitimized by problems plaguing Tuesday's primary in the Badger State, including long lines, understaffed polling stations and widespread confusion about registration and verification requirements — problems she attributed largely to the newly adopted GOP guidelines.
Laning is accusing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP lawmakers of enacting the changes not to discourage voter fraud, as the Republicans claim, but to suppress Democratic votes in November.
She called it a "classic case of a solution in search of a problem."
"Voter fraud was never a problem here," Laning said Wednesday on a phone call with reporters.
Democratic National Committee (DNC) head Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is lobbing similar charges, saying the long lines and other glitches in Wisconsin were "the inevitable result" of the GOP lawmakers trying "to intentionally make it harder for students, women, minorities, working parents, the elderly, and the poor to vote."
"And this is not an isolated incident," Wasserman Schultz said Tuesday night in a statement. "What we saw in Wisconsin today is business as usual for the GOP."
As evidence, the Democrats are highlighting comments from Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), who said Tuesday that the new voting requirements could help ensure a victory for the GOP nominee in the Badger State, which has not voted to send a Republican to the White House since 1984.
"I think Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble MORE is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up," Grothman told an NBC affiliate in Milwaukee. "And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well."
The Democrats pounced, with Laning saying Grothman "slipped up last night and accidentally told the truth."
"He might as well have said Republicans are working to rig elections to win," she said.
At issue are a series of new voting guidelines enacted by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans beginning in 2011. They include a new photo ID mandate, the elimination of some early voting and new restrictions on individual registration and absentee voting.
Many of the changes have been tied up by court challenges, but all will be in place for this year's elections.
The supporters of the changes argue they're necessary to promote fairness and fight voter fraud. In signing the photo ID law, Walker characterized it as a “common sense reform” that would “go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections" in the state.
The Democrats reject the idea that fraud is a problem, arguing that the laws are designed to disenfranchise voters who are "inconvenient" to the Republicans, in the words of Laning. She said the lines at Marquette University on Tuesday were as long as three hours.
"It just was needless, because we don't have a voter fraud problem here," Laning said.
Providing an additional layer of intrigue, Wisconsin is also home to Rep. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerProtecting the fundamental right of all Americans to have access to the voting booth Republicans compare Ron Johnson to Joe McCarthy: NYT GOP puts pressure on Pelosi over Swalwell MORE (R-Wis.), a former Judiciary Committee chairman who's been pressing his fellow Republicans to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) following the 2013 Supreme Court decision, which eliminated a central provision designed to fight race-based discrimination at the polls.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.) has said he supports Sensenbrenner's VRA bill but won't act on it unless the Judiciary panel does so first. Ryan's "bottom-up" approach likely means the proposal is dead this year, as the committee is headed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), who opposes the legislation.
Sensenbrenner penned an op-ed in The New York Times last week warning of discrimination in November if Congress doesn't update the VRA before then.
He pointed to the long lines that plagued Arizona's primary last month as a portent of problems that could bedevil the general election, when many more voters will participate.
Sensenbrenner's office said Wednesday, however, that the Wisconsin primary did not spark similar concerns.
"Thankfully, we haven’t heard any reports from Wisconsin regarding issues at polling locations," spokeswoman Nicole Tieman said Wednesday in an email.