AG's Voter Lawsuit Is a Fool's Mission

In a recent guest column in the Capital Times, "Protecting the right to vote," Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen claimed his voter lawsuit is motivated only by a desire to enforce the law. AG’s Voter Lawsuit Is a Fool’s Mission

by Mike McCabe, Executive Director

September 25, 2008

In a recent guest column in the Capital Times, "Protecting the right to vote," Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen claimed his voter lawsuit is motivated only by a desire to enforce the law.

I can’t look into his heart and know for sure what his motives are. What I do know is that to many it looks like naked partisanship, and no matter how many assurances to the contrary Van Hollen gives, it will be next to impossible for someone so heavily invested in making sure John McCain is the next president to shake that impression.

That’s the biggest among many reasons why Van Hollen’s lawsuit is a fool’s mission. No matter the outcome in court, the one thing his action surely will do is hopelessly divide voters into two camps – those (mostly Republicans) who believe he’s protecting election integrity and those (chiefly Democrats) who think he’s messing with the vote and trying to rig the election for his guy.

The other thing Van Hollen might possibly achieve is to create conditions that could turn Wisconsin into the next Ohio or Florida.

It is no coincidence that Ohio and Florida were the sites of ugly election controversies in the last two presidential elections that left lingering questions about whether eligible voters were improperly prevented from casting ballots and whether votes were properly counted. In both states, partisan elected officials run the elections.

Katherine Harris and Kenneth Blackwell became nationally recognized symbols of the election system meltdowns that occurred in their states. Harris even became the subject of a Hollywood movie, portrayed – lampooned, really – by actress Laura Dern.

Despite elections decided by razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004, Wisconsin has been spared the debacles Ohio and Florida experienced. That also is no coincidence. Partisan elected officials don’t run our elections here in Wisconsin.

History has taught us that both major parties will cheat if given the opportunity. At one time or another, both parties have been caught trying to stuff ballot boxes. And at one point or another in our nation’s history, both parties have had a hand in voter suppression efforts ranging from literacy tests and poll taxes to legal challenges and computer-aided scrubs of voter lists.

That’s why it behooves us to make sure political party leaders have no place in running our elections. And it’s why reform groups like the Democracy Campaign fought so hard to pass ethics reform legislation that created a new politically independent agency under the direction of a nonpartisan board of retired judges to administer elections as well as enforce campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

Attorney General Van Hollen, the highest ranking elected Republican in the state and co-chairman of the McCain campaign in Wisconsin, is suing that agency and the former judges who head it in an effort he insists is necessary to protect us against voter fraud. He’s doing it even though academic researchers and criminal prosecutors alike who've looked into all the loose allegations of voter fraud have found that it is more rare than a financially stable investment bank.

The attorney general’s lawsuit is a solution in search of a problem. The even bigger problem with it is that as he scours the landscape for a problem, forces could be set in motion that would turn Wisconsin into Hollywood’s next script.

With all due respect to the attorney general, the best thing we all can do to protect the sanctity of our elections is to keep partisans the hell out of the business of registering voters and counting votes.