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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008

Planned Chaos at the Polls

McCain campaign co-chair J.B. Van Hollen tries to disenfranchise

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In the last two presidential elections, we have been forced to watch from afar as public officials in closely contested states abuse their authority in clear attempts to sway the entire election.

Who could forget Florida and the infamous Katherine Harris, who refused to count legitimate votes during the 2000 presidential election? In 2004, it was Ohio’s Ken Blackwell not allocating enough voting machines in Democratic-leaning areas and insisting that voter registration cards be of a specific weight or be thrown out.

Harris and Blackwell were not only state officials charged with running the elections, they were also partisan campaign officials for George W. Bush. In the end, their reprehensible actions clearly helped make Bush president in both elections while disenfranchising countless voters.

In 2008, it looks like Republicans will once again do anything to win, but this time Wisconsinites may have a front-row seat to all of their shenanigans and attempts to suppress the vote.

Complications and Challenges on Election Day

Last week the highest-ranking Republican official in the state, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, filed a frivolous election lawsuit against Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB). In the suit, Van Hollen demands that the GAB overturn a recent decision and change election procedures just before a presidential election that will likely have record turnout.

Federal law requires each state to match their voter registration list with other state records, such as the Department of Transportation database. Those matches are already taking place, but Van Hollen wants them to go back retroactively to 2006.

Van Hollen’s action would require that people with non-matching data be disqualified from casting a regular ballot on Election Day. This could greatly complicate voting for hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin simply because of things like a clerical error, a missing middle initial or the listing of an old address on a driver’s license. Recently, the GAB announced that even four of the six judges on its own board failed a complete match against the voter data.

If Van Hollen’s lawsuit is successful, their names will be dropped from the voter rolls and they would be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are much easier to challenge and require an additional trip to the polls to prove eligibility by the next day.

The League of Women Voters opposes Van Hollen’s lawsuit because it would “disenfranchise people just because at some time in their lives, their data was entered somewhat differently into two different databases.” They also caution that the rule would cause long lines and confusion at the polls. Municipal clerks testified at a GAB hearing that such a rule would compromise their efforts to run fair and clean elections this November and, among other problems, could prevent absentee ballots from being sent overseas to Wisconsin soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The GAB has also expressed its concern, saying that Van Hollen’s plan could cause unnecessary hardship and confusion at the polls and the disenfranchisement of Wisconsin citizens with a clear and legitimate right to vote.

Van Hollen said in an interview last week that such criticism shows that people don’t understand the lawsuit that he has filed. Some have taken his statement to be the height of arrogance, since the board of the GAB consists of six retired judges who surely understand both the federal law and Van Hollen’s frivolous lawsuit.

Van Hollen’s a Reliable Tool for the Republican Party

Van Hollen has insisted that his lawsuit has no partisan motive. Actually, he started defending his motives before anyone even started to call them into question, which makes one think that the attorney general “doth protest too much.”

After all, Van Hollen brought this lawsuit only weeks after the GAB rejected the Republican Party’s request to implement the very same rule. Immediately after Van Hollen filed the suit, the Republican Party of Wisconsin praised his partisan action, saying that he “lived up to an important campaign promise.”

Van Hollen is not only a reliable tool of his political party, but he is also a co-chair for the John McCain presidential campaign in Wisconsin. In what promises to be another close election, Van Hollen’s proposed rule would likely have a disproportionate effect on groups of people that are not as likely to support McCain.

Immediately after the attorney general announced that he filed the lawsuit, One Wisconsin Now demanded that he recuse himself from any election-related lawsuits because of his very obvious conflicts of interest.

Van Hollen has refused to do so. McCain often uses the theme “Country First,” but apparently Van Hollen prefers to practice “Party First,” as he uses his position of authority to act in support of his Republican masters and to the detriment of scores of voters. Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, often a milquetoast when it comes to the darlings of the right wing, flatly says that Van Hollen’s action “smells of political mischief.”

More McCain Mischief

The frivolous lawsuit that Van Hollen has sprung on the public is not the only sign that there is mischief being made for unsuspecting vot ers. The Wisconsin State Journal has reported on a large number of mailings sent out by McCain’s presidential campaign that include absentee ballot applications that were addressed to the wrong municipal clerk. It appears that the mailings with the wrong addresses were mostly directed toward Wisconsin Democrats.

These developments have led some to question whether the Arizona senator’s campaign is deliberately trying to get certain voters to apply for absentee ballots in places where they aren’t eligible to vote. Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state GOP, claimed that the mailing was not intended to keep people from the polls and that the problem resulted from incorrect information in the databases used for the mailing. He went on to comment that “you do the best with the lists you have, and no list is perfect.” Apparently he holds different standards for lists that the GOP is using to send out erroneous information as opposed to the one that Van Hollen is suing the state of Wisconsin over. Regardless of Jefferson’s excuse-making and inconsistency, the state elections agency is now investigating the massively misleading McCain mailing.

One can only worry about what will happen when record numbers of Wisconsinites try to vote this November. Will all of these seemingly coordinated efforts significantly derail the massive turnout that is expected? Voters would do well to fully inform themselves of these events and tac tics and to be diligent in ensuring that their vote is counted regardless of the attempted roadblocks that may be erected. You can learn more about protecting your right to vote by visiting ProtectWisconsinsVote.org, which includes a helpful voter tool kit.

In an interview on WisconsinEye last week, Van Hollen was asked if a person who gets flagged under his lawsuit would get a notice advising them of the problem before they show up to vote in November. The ini tial word that Van Hollen uses to respond is as telling as it is disturbing: “Hopefully…” He then tries to pawn off all of those inevitable problems onto the GAB.

So Van Hollen files a lawsuit that could create mass confusion if enforced—and somehow that is not his problem or even a concern? Such a response lends itself to the idea that chaos at the polls is not just an afterthought, but precisely the goal in the first place.

Liebmann is the blog editor and research director of One Wisconsin Now.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.express milwaukee.com.

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