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Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008

Partisan Taskmasters and an Election Task Force

The attorney general’s voting shenanigans continue

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Those looking for voter fraud in Wisconsin may want to start with the top elected official at the Department of Justice.

Two weeks ago, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filed a frivolous lawsuit against the state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB), a move that could greatly compromise the November election.

Federal law requires each state to match its voter registration list with other state records, such as the Department of Transportation’s database. Those matches are already taking place. But Van Hollen is suing the GAB because he wants them to go back retroactively to 2006.

It has been estimated that the attorney general’s proposed rule could complicate voting for as many as a million legitimate voters simply because of clerical errors, a missing middle initial or the listing of an old address on a driver’s license. That point was driven home when four of the six retired judges on the GAB board failed a perfect match themselves.

Last week Michael Horne looked at Van Hollen’s own voting registration information and reported the results on his blog (see Expresso’s “Blog of the Week,” page 16). He found potential problems because of Van Hollen’s various uses of his own name and initials. One can only wonder if the attorney general’s name will be flagged, his vote challenged, and if he will be kept from casting a regular ballot in November.

Using Official Offices for Partisan Gain

Van Hollen has rightfully had his motives questioned because he only filed his frivolous suit after the state Republican Party failed to convince the GAB to enact the unnecessary rule. Van Hollen is not only the highest-ranking Republican in the state, but he is also the co-chair for the John McCain presidential campaign in Wisconsin. A successful Van Hollen lawsuit would help the McCain campaign in Wisconsin because it would complicate voting mostly for groups of people that are not likely to support him: new voters.

But, incredibly, Van Hollen insists that his motives are completely pure.

One Wisconsin Now has repeatedly called on Van Hollen to recuse himself from any election-related legal matters because of his very obvious conflicts, but he has thus far refused to step away from the partisan lawsuit.

After a week of evasive answers from the Department of Justice (DOJ), reporters finally confirmed what many already expected—that GOP lawyers communicated with high-ranking Department of Justice officials about the substance of the suit only weeks before it was filed. Republican Party lawyer Chris Mohrman admitted that he did in fact communicate with Van Hollen’s lawyers prior to Van Hollen taking the extraordinary step of suing the GAB, an entity that he also is supposed to defend.

If there was any doubt left that this was a partisan lawsuit at its core, it was eliminated earlier this week when the GOP announced its intent to intervene in the case. What's more, Republican Party Chair Reince Priebus admitted Monday to having conversations with Van Hollen's top aide prior to the suit being filed.

Over a week and a half ago, upon learning of the lawsuit, One Wisconsin Now submitted an open records request to the DOJ for any and all records of DOJ communication with Republican lawyers and operatives, including Mohrman. One Wisconsin Now also requested Van Hollen’s calendar and schedule from May 4 through Sept. 11.

It has been more than a week since filing the request and the DOJ has thus far failed to produce the records. Will the records simply verify the partisan involvement that news reports have already revealed or will they provide even more disturbing evidence of partisan mischief between the DOJ and the Republican Party of Wisconsin? Regardless of the answer, Van Hollen should fully comply with the request for records immediately.

New Task Force Targets Milwaukee Voters

While questions about Van Hollen’s partisan lawsuit continued to swirl, he came to Milwaukee last week to announce the creation of a joint election task force to investigate any alleged incidents of election-related mischief. Members of the attorney general’s office are supposed to work with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, several of his assistants and special detectives from the Milwaukee Police Department.

At the press conference Chisholm was asked if the task force would start its work by investigating the scores of misleading John McCain mailings that were sent out around the state, which included absentee ballot applications that were addressed to the wrong municipality.

Chisholm initially said that the task force would look into the misleading McCain mailing. But, later, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf qualified that promise by saying that no one from Milwaukee County has complained about the mailing.

The fact that Landgraf would suggest that he needs a complainant from within Milwaukee County also suggests that this new task force has been created solely to look over the shoulders of Milwaukee County voters. The obvious question is: Why would a task force be created only to focus on Milwaukee, as if its residents are somehow more prone to violating election laws? This may fit into a partisan right-wing talking point, but it is the furthest thing from reality.

Last year the Brennan Center for Justice released a complete analysis of the actual incidents of voter mischief during the 2004 presidential election, as compared to the wild accusations from right-wing ideologues. They found that out of the 277,565 votes that were cast in Milwaukee for that election, there were only seven substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes—all persons with felony convictions. That amounts to a nonexistent rate of 0.0025% in Milwaukee.

Although right-wing hysteria assumes otherwise, the actual facts demonstrate that there is no significant voter fraud problem in Milwaukee—or the state, for that matter. So why the apparent singular focus on Milwaukee by this new task force? This important question has been raised by the ACLU, the NAACP, and others who are concerned that Van Hollen set up the entire task force only to question the motives of voters in the state’s sole minority-majority city.

The task force could go a long way in gaining some credibility if it indeed looked into the misleading McCain mailings. Unfortunately, such an investigation may require it to start with its founder, by questioning McCain campaign co-chair Van Hollen. Until the task force figures out if it is going to address this troubling situation, voters can call its leaders at 278-4645 to report the receipt of the misleading McCain mailings and any other kinds of voter suppression and voter-intimidation tactics that may be used leading up to Election Day. Concerned citizens can also take action by visiting SaveWisconsinsVote.org.


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.expressmilwaukee.com.