Steyer Pushes Debunked Claims of 2016 Wisconsin Voter Suppression

No credible study found 100,000 votes were suppressed

Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful and billionaire activist Tom Steyer at the Iowa State Fair / Getty Images
October 2, 2019

Tom Steyer is pushing a dubious claim that 100,000 African-American voters were kept from the polls in Wisconsin in 2016 by voter-suppression efforts.

The California billionaire and Democratic presidential candidate is tying his claim to the fact that President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by a relatively thin margin, implying that if the alleged voter suppression had not happened, Hillary Clinton would have won the state’s 10 Electoral College votes. Steyer is spreading this claim despite repeated refutations from fact-checking sites and media outlets.

"We really do have to make it easy to vote and get rid of voter suppression," he said on the campaign trail last week in New York City.

"The voter-suppression part in the United States—people think it can’t be that bad, but it is. It’s deliberate, it’s organized, it’s very effective, and it’s, it makes a huge difference. And the numbers I give on that are simple: 100,000 African Americans prevented in 2016 from voting in Wisconsin. Trump won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes. It really matters. It’s systematic."

Not long after the election, one study emerged alleging a voter-ID law in the state had "suppressed" 20,000 voters. However, as the Intelligencer later noted, those claims "were met with strong and convincing rebuttals. And it’s certain that the decrease in black turnout in Wisconsin was due at least in part to the candidates on offer, not the new laws."

Left-leaning Slate also pointed out "the study was conducted by progressives with a partisan interest, the analysis has not been peer-reviewed, etc.—such nuance didn’t make its way to social media."

Steyer’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

Clinton has also been claiming since her election loss that tens of thousands were prevented from voting not only in Wisconsin but in other states, usually saying the vast majority were ethnic minorities. But fact-checkers have refuted those claims.

"I was the first person who ran for president without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, and I will tell you, it makes a really big difference," Clinton said at a civil rights commemorative service in Alabama this March.

"And it doesn’t just make a difference in Alabama and Georgia; it made a difference in Wisconsin, where the best studies that have been done said somewhere between 40 [thousand] and 80,000 people were turned away from the polls because of the color of their skin, because of their age, because of whatever excuse could be made up to stop a fellow American citizen from voting," she said.

A Washington Post fact check said Clinton was "way off-base" when they gave her "Four Pinnochios" for the remarks, adding that they were "[w]rong on multiple levels, seriously misleading."

Last month, Clinton made similar claims that "anywhere from 27,000 to 200,000 Wisconsin citizen voters, predominantly in Milwaukee, were turned away from the polls."

PolitiFact rated the claim "Pants on Fire."

"This is the third time we have rated claims from Clinton on the Wisconsin turnout," the website said. "She’s no closer on this one than the last one."

Before officially announcing his run for president, Steyer was laying the groundwork for his campaign with a series of town halls built around a policy platform he called the "5 Rights," with one of those being the right to vote.

In a town hall event in Charleston, S.C., he accused Republicans of scheming nationwide to "take away equal votes from people."