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Voting Rights' Groups to Attorney General: Lawsuit against Gov. Accountability Board Imperils Voters

October 6, 2008

For immediate release: October 6, 2008
Contact: Gabe Roth, 202-741-5563, groth@gloverparkgroup.com



Coalition of civil rights attorneys, public interest groups and law professors file new brief today decrying Van Hollen lawsuit as misapplication of federal voting statute

Madison, WI – Today a coalition of voting rights organizations submitted a “friend of the court” brief in a lawsuit Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filed against the State Government Accountability Board regarding the state’s compliance with the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

The brief lays out a legal argument as to why Van Hollen’s attempts to purge voter rolls and cross check voter identification with existing state databases go beyond the intended scope of HAVA.

“The Help America Vote Act is intended to do just that – help the average person cast a ballot, not take away his or her right to vote,” said Jon Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The attorney general’s misguided interpretation of this law will doubtlessly imperil the ability of thousands of Wisconsin citizens to do their civic duty on Election Day. That’s why his lawsuit should be thrown out of court, and the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board should continue its charge of ensuring a fair election, rather than be distracted by a frivolous lawsuit.”

Joining the Lawyers’ Committee on the amicus curiae brief are: the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law; the Campaign Legal Center; 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 Ohio State University law professor Daniel P. Tokaji.

The intent of HAVA, when signed into law in 2002, was to ensure that state agencies were communicating with one another regarding the identification information of eligible voters – not, as the attorney general contends, a voter’s eligibility itself.

“Attorney General Van Hollen’s lawsuit is legally flawed and ignores both the letter and the spirit of the Help America Vote Act,” said J. Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “It is ironic that Wisconsin’s top law enforcement officer would seek relief from the courts that would actually violate federal law.”

“With less than a month before the election – and with a record turnout expected – election officials should be focusing on recruiting and training poll workers and sending out absentee ballots: now is the time to be sure our polls are ready for voters. A last-minute rule change will only cause confusion and penalize voters for typos in state databases,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund.

"No other state has ever undertaken the kind of retroactive matching that the attorney general seeks,” said Wendy Weiser, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Regardless of the fact that the attorney general's proposal is inconsistent with federal law, it’s bad policy — a recipe for chaos, confusion and, inevitably, disenfranchisement.”

If the lawsuit is allowed to proceed, the court is expected to rule on its merits by Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, with voter registration periods coming to a close today across the country, Wisconsin voters are reminded that the Badger State is one of eight in which individuals are able to vote onsite on Election Day. Voters who preregister may find themselves off the voter rolls, should the lawsuit be allowed to continue.

To ensure that every eligible vote is cast and counted on Nov. 4, Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, is providing a free and nonpartisan hotline (1-866-OUR VOTE) connecting voters with problems or questions to experts who can offer assistance, as well as a comprehensive web resource at www.866ourvote.org featuring real time voter information and extensive instructions on how voters can make sure their voices are heard.


Election Protection is the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Through its 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline (1-866-687-8683) and dedicated team of legal experts and trained volunteers, Election Protection helps all American voters, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting, offering live assistance. The coalition has more than 100 partners at the national, state and local level, and is providing live voter protection services now through Election Day for all 50 states. For more information about Election Protection and the 1-866-OUR-VOTE Hotline, please visit: www.866ourvote.org.