Thursday, September 11, 2008

Van Hollen's Hail Mary

Yesterday, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen decided to file a last-minute suit against the state's elections agency in an effort to get them to force ineligible voters off the rolls. Seems straight-forward enough, right?

Yeah, maybe not.

I have several questions about this move that I'd love to see addressed: first, how many states actually have full compliance with the HAVA law? And what does full compliance mean for voter enfranchisement (let's talk about paperless ballots, shall we)? How long would it take for Wisconsin to conduct this back check of registrations, and would it interfere with the upcoming November elections (something tells me it might)? Are we setting ourselves up to be the next Ohio or Florida because of this?

One of the latest causes du jour of the GOP has been voter ID and fraud, and this move only seems to play into their push. Thing is, voter fraud has been shown, time and time again, not to be at all systemic or very problematic. In fact, the vast majority of inconsistencies found in voter rolls by the state board all seem to be minor instances of typos, variations in how names are used, and incompatibilities between state databases. Certainly, it's worth working to streamline and better the registration system so that it's easier to conduct the necessary checks. In fact, since August of this year, we've apparently achieved that ability as required under the law (more importantly, we should work to ensure that everyone who can vote is able to do so without difficulty).

But since this was later than the deadline laid out by HAVA, and since that meant some time wherein new registrations were not run through the more strict background checks, Van Hollen is irritated enough to sue.

The state's election officials are not pleased, and rightfully so, I think. Coming just two months before the presidential elections--likely to be hotly contested in this state--the suit smells a bit like a last-minute hail Mary, something that might help skew results one way or another. Maybe I'm being overly paranoid, but being that all evidence suggests little real voter fraud in Wisconsin, and being that the elections board did eventually come into compliance with the law, the move seems unnecessary.

At best, it will eliminate a small handful of dodgy registrations. At worst, it might disenfranchise a whole slew of perfectly valid voters. In theory, that's what HAVA was supposed to fix, not contribute to.

But hey, at least we're not Michigan. I hope.

UPDATED TO ADD: Well, turns out Van Hollen is the Wisconsin co-chair of John McCain's campaign. No, that doesn't smack of being a conflict of interest at all.

I'd also like to note that using mismatched address data from WisDOT and voter registrations as reason to bar people from voting is an especially terrible idea when you consider how many people move to new apartments from year to year (students and lower income folks especially). I have some personal experience with this: when you move that often, it's sometimes difficult to remember to update everything, in a timely fashion, with WisDOT. That alone should never lead to someone being prevented from voting, though.


grumps said...

There were 9 foreclosure notices in the Janesville paper just last night. 9 new addresses. 9 mismatched records.

How many of those people are going to immediately change their registration?

My first question is, "Does AG Goodhair even have standing to file this suit against a legally seated state board?" We can work from there.

Emily said...

That's a fine question, grumps. Let's hope the right people start asking it, and demanding answers.

Anonymous said...

The program that the election officials in your town use to check your name/DOB/address against DOT data makes this matching process slow and difficult. They only got it up and running last month. It takes two days for the data to be checked and a thumbs up or thumbs down to come back to the town official. No explanation is included about what particular piece of info failed to match either. So they have to try to contact the voter and ask them to submit another registration form, hoping that one will match. Basically, they have to ask voters to just copy their driver's license data letter for letter, exact punctuation, so the match will be successful and the voter will pass the test.

That's why asking all 1800 or so clerks around the state to go back and individually request matching checks on registrations from the past 2 and a half years would be virtually impossible to do and require a lot of additional labor.

It's astonishing that this very expensive software project was over budget, two years behind schedule and still somehow doesn't do a very efficient job of checking validity of voter info.

Go here to verify your voter status:

Anonymous said...

Van Hollen is an idiot.
All that happens, when one of his minions challenge a voter is to re-register them.

Just make sure the voter copies the name, exactly as it appears on the WI Drivers License/ID

Either way they get a ballot and they vote.

But re-registering is a way to beat that GOP tactic.
If they act as observers and go nuts, with this stunt, the Chief Inspectors should warn them for disrupting, and on the 2nd attempt have them removed from the polling location.
If they won't go...the police will remove them, upon the Chief's orders.

Emily said...

Anon the first - That just doesn't make sense. Thanks for the insight, though, and the very handy link.

Anon the second - I can only hope we have enough honest people minding the polls and enforcing the law to make sure no eligible voter gets turned away.

Daniel Braun said...

"I can only hope we have enough honest people minding the polls and enforcing the law"

I think that is exactly what Van Hollen is looking for.

Emily said...

That may be what Van Hollen's looking for (if we give him the benefit of the doubt), but then he's going about it all wrong.

Our first and most important duty is to make sure that all citizens who are rightfully eligible to vote are able to do so without harassment, discouragement, or hindrance.

This move, by all appearances, would do just the opposite.

Daniel Braun said...

But he does not really NEED the benefit of the doubt does he?

This is the law and he is required to enforce it.

The people he is suing are in violation of it.

Whatever ever MOTIVATIONS you are ascribing to Van Hollen are of your own design.

They are also legally irrelevant.

The mandate of the GAB, or any election official is to also protect the integrity of the voting system.

If they choose not to do so, it is incumbent upon law enforcement to take steps to force them to do so.

If they had done this earlier, it would not be a problem.

Now it is because they had no interest in carrying out their legal obligations.

This is not a problem of Van Hollen's making.

The Lost Albatross