Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Disenfranchising voters with J.B. Van Hollen

Van Hollen sure has started himself a good old-fashioned shit storm, hasn't he? Not that the issue of alleged voter fraud and disenfranchisement hasn't been around since time immemorium, but recently it's blown up here in Wisconsin thanks to several strange incidents involving misleading absentee ballot mailers sent by the McCain campaign and our AG's last-minute lawsuit.

Now the Democratic Party of Wisconsin wants in on the action, filing to be added as a party to Van Hollen's voter registration suit. Their goal, according to State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke, is either to pressure Van Hollen into recusing himself from the suit or, failing that, to represent the estimated 1 million Wisconsin voters who might be wrongly purged from the voter rolls if it goes through.

All this, and Common Cause just put out a report that casts Wisconsin's voting process in glowing terms--best in the nation, even. Van Hollen and the McCain campaign seem hell-bent on making that report as irrelevent as possible, as quickly as possible.

I came to Wisconsin as a student, and the same-day, motor-voter registration was a huge boon to me and my fellow classmates. Most of us moved to a new apartment or dorm every year, making it difficult to keep our DOT records up-to-date at all times. And since many of us were coming from out-of-state, it was especially nice to be able to cast our votes from here, and not through the often difficult and unpredictable process of absentee voting.

I had this fact hammered home just recently when, at the behest of Lee Rayburn, I headed over to to look up my own voter registration status and discovered that there was no record of me having voted in the 2004 presidential elections. That's curious, because I did vote that year, and by absentee ballot, having been told that I could cast my vote early by doing so and thus avoid long lines at the polls. Turns out, it was likely never counted.

I've heard in the past that absentee and provisional ballots are sometimes not counted until well after election day, and then only if the results are very close. This strikes me as incredibly stupid--all legitimate votes cast should be counted! But not only that, the election for which my vote was apparently not counted was damn close in Wisconsin, where Kerry won by a razor-thin margin. So what gives? And how can you expect me to trust that absentee ballots, especially those with incorrect city clerk information on them a la the McCain campaign, will be counted at all?

That's why Wisconsin's current voter registration methods are so important--and why, as Common Cause's report points out--they work so well. Less hassle at the polls means shorter lines, and fewer people turning away in frustration or for lack of time. And, despite mostly Republican claims to the contrary, there has been very little evidence of wide-spread voter fraud. Where it does crop up, it's in very small numbers and gets dealt with quickly and appropriately. Certainly, we should be sure that there are no dead people registered, no felons, and no duplicate applications. This is a worthwhile effort. But we need to balance that rather carefully with the need to make sure that everyone who is eligible and wants to vote can do so without impediment.

For another good, insightful and well-researched take on why Van Hollen's move is dangerous and ridiculous, please read Bruce Murphy's piece over at Milwaukee Magazine. Here's a choice excerpt:
It was the Republican Party, not Van Hollen, that originally demanded the Government Accountability Board take action to bar all these voters. The GAB is nonpartisan and run by six retired judges. The six judges were selected from a list by Gov. Jim Doyle, with three appointments getting approved by the Republican-led state Assembly and three getting approved by the Democratic-led state Senate. Its members, and its legal counsel George Dunst, did not believe the federal law required the action demanded by the Republican Party.

The GAB went further than consult the law, however. It solicited testimony from the experts on local polling places, the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association and the Wisconsin County Clerks Association. Representatives of both groups predicted the Republican Party’s proposal could not be accomplished in the 10 weeks remaining until the election and would “create havoc” at the polls (and we're now down to seven weeks). Bushey says she checked with her membership in the state’s 72 counties and the members were “overwhelmingly” opposed to the GOP idea. Nancy Zastrow, head of the Municipal Clerks Association, said the feeling was the same among her 1,300 fellow clerks.

Only after the Republican Party’s demand was shot down did Van Hollen go into action.
Frankly, I don't see how you wouldn't view this as a boldly partisan move on Van Hollen's part. So while there is room for improvement in how we register and verify voters in this state (not to mention nationwide, where people mostly seem to have a tougher time of it than those of us in Wisconsin), this particular effort only seems aimed at making the situation worse. And with so much riding on this next election, we simply cannot afford to let bad partisan politics take control of our voting system.


Patrick said...

Damn that J.B. Van Hollen, how dare he enforce federal law and only allow people to vote once. What is this world coming to when we don't allow dead people and felons to vote!

Emily said...

Still missing the point there, Patrick.

Anonymous said...

That was a good idea you had. I wonder what would happen if everyone went over to check their voting records. I am tempted, truly.

Anonymous said...

Right on Patrick. I'm sure hordes of people will pour into the polls to place a fraudulent second vote. Who wouldn't want to wait in line a second time and risk 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine to get 1 more vote for their candidate?

Unknown said...

J.B. Van Hollen at it again. Will have "goon squads" at polling places to intimate potential Obama voters.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced Tuesday that as a part of his election integrity efforts the Wisconsin Department of Justice will be sending assistant attorneys general and special agents from the Division of Criminal Investigation to various locations around the state on Election Day (Tuesday, November 4, 2008), to ensure compliance with state laws governing elections.

Why doesn't Van Hollen spend his time prosecuting "real" criminals instead of those in his paranoid fantasies.

Since there are no electronic voting machines in Wisconsin to rig, the Republicans have to find some way to win at any cost. When are they going to grow up and show some integrity.

The Lost Albatross