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The ostensible purpose behind voter ID laws sweeping the country is to prevent fraudulent voting. For the Republican lawmakers who have pushed for the laws' passage in state after state, barring ineligible voters from casting ballots is the supposed reason that states need stringent new identification requirements.
But on Tuesday Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Wisconsin, may have tipped his party's hand.
When asked by a reporter how Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who won Wisconsin's primary Tuesday evening, could win the fairly blue state in the general election, Grothman cited voter ID laws as a factor that would boost his party's odds.
"Well, I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well," Grothman told TMJ4.
Grothman's remarks represent a cardinal sin in politics — admitting cynical motivations aloud.
Martha Laning, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, found the confession troubling.
"Well there it is — if you can't win Wisconsinite's votes the fair and square way, you impose voter ID to gain an advantage so you win," she wrote in a Facebook post. "I can't believe this is the Wisconsin I grew up in."
Grothman's soundbite is unpleasant but also unsurprising. It's long been understood by rigorous observers of electoral politics that the new voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem that doesn't exist. As a major Brennan Center report published in 2007 pointed out, "It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls." New voter ID laws aren't preventing much fraudulent voting because fraudulent voting isn't a real problem. But there is evidence that voter ID laws are preventing young people and minorities — key Democratic constituencies — from casting their ballots.
Grothman's comments, which represent a gaffe in the truest sense of the term — an occasion on which a politician accidentally tells the truth — reveal the real problem that Republicans are trying to solve: how to suppress the votes of Americans whom they can't win over.