A Wisconsin Republican Looks Back With Regret at Voter ID and Redistricting Fights

Voters take to the polls on April 5, 2016 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. (Photo: Darren Hauck / Getty Images)Voters take to the polls on April 5, 2016, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. (Photo: Darren Hauck / Getty Images)

Dale Schultz, a Republican, served in the Wisconsin Legislature for more than 30 years, from 1983 to 2015. His Senate district is located in south Wisconsin, much of it rural farmland. Schultz was considered a moderate, and so much of what happened in state politics near the end of his tenure dismayed him: partisan fights over the rights of unions, a gubernatorial recall election, and claims of partisan Republican gerrymandering that will now be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

And then there was the prolonged entanglement over voting rights in the state — who could vote, when they could vote, how they could vote. In the face of years of political combat and federal court fights, the legislature ultimately adopted a vast array of changes to election laws. Among them:

  • Voters would have to produce certain types of identification.

  • Early voting was reduced.

  • Restrictions on absentee balloting were implemented.

  • Time frames for how long people had to be residing in the state before they could vote were lengthened.

Republicans hailed the moves as overdue steps toward improving the integrity of state voting. Democrats cried foul, alleging a conspiracy to suppress votes among people of color and others inclined to vote Democratic.

Schulz was in office for the birth of the efforts to tighten voting procedures and often present for the Republican deliberations about their aims. Schultz, before leaving office, voted for the initial voting measures, a decision he came to regret. He opposed some of the subsequent measures as litigation over the issues made their way through the courts and his career wound down.

ProPublica had a rare interview with Schultz recently about the issue of voting in Wisconsin. The Q&A follows. It has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

ProPublica: You were initially in favor of Republican efforts to tighten voting and reconfigure…

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