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Wisconsin Attorney General Sued To Stop Voter Purge

The Wisconsin attorney general's effort to winnow voter rolls would violate federal law, a suit alleges.
 
 
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The Campaign Legal Center, joined by a number of other public interest and civil rights organizations, today sought to enter a case involving an attempt by the Wisconsin Attorney General to misapply the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to purge state voter rolls.

"The Attorney General's suit is legally flawed and ignores both the letter and the spirit of the Help America Vote Act," said J. Gerald Hebert, Director of Litigation for the Campaign Legal Center. "If the Wisconsin Attorney General's lawsuit is successful, thousands of Wisconsin voters will be disenfranchised turning the Help America Vote Act into the 'Strip Americans of the Right to Vote Act.'"

Joining the Legal Center in the filing of a motion to participate as amici curiae and a proposed brief in Van Hollen v. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board were the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund, the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, Inc., Fair Elections Wisconsin and Daniel P. Tokaji (the "amici").

The Van Hollen litigation was brought by the Wisconsin Attorney General in the Circuit Court of Dane County and raises important issues regarding the application of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, 42 U.S.C. §15301 et seq. ("HAVA"), to the State of Wisconsin. In filing the motion to participate, the amici advised the Court that because the Wisconsin Attorney General's interpretation of HAVA was legally flawed, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The motion and brief also advised the court that the amici believed it was helpful to place the Attorney General's construction of HAVA in a national context, because such a context would show how his interpretation of HAVA was significantly at odds with the understanding of HAVA adopted by many other states.

"It is ironic that Wisconsin's top law enforcement officer would seek relief from the courts that actually would violate federal law", said Hebert. "There is nothing in the law that requires the disenfranchisement of persons simply because their name in the voter registration database does not perfectly match some other data base." Hebert cited typographical errors, clerical mistakes, use of hyphenated names, and changes in maiden and married names as the main cause of any computer mismatches.

"It makes little sense to strip Americans of the right to vote based on an unsuccessful effort to match voter information with another government data base, especially when federal law not only does not require it but even prohibits it," Hebert said. "The Attorney General's suit, if successful, would result in the needless and unfair disenfranchisement of thousands of registered voters on the eve of Election Day for something as simple as having registered to vote using a middle initial instead of one's full middle name as it may appear on a driver's license."

The motion and accompanying brief provided background information concerning the practice of computer matching to explain why HAVA generally does not link voter eligibility to the successful matching of registration records with records contained in other databases. Finally, the brief identifies concerns as to whether granting the relief requested by the Attorney General could significantly interfere with the conduct of the November 4, 2008 election in Wisconsin.

To read the brief, click here.

The Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization which works in the areas of campaign finance and elections, political communication and government ethics.