Van Hollen warns against voting overhaul

Chris Rizo Apr. 15, 2010, 3:36am

J.B. Van Hollen (R)

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline)-Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on Wednesday urged state legislators to reject proposed changes to rules governing voter registration.

Under pending legislation, Wisconsinites would be automatically registered to vote by the state Government Accountability Board when they apply for a driver's license.

"It is not clear to me what problems this reform is trying to address. It makes changes to the voter registration law, yet registering to vote is easy under current law," the Republican attorney general wrote in a letter sent yesterday to legislative leaders.

Van Hollen said the proposal sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, and state Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, could lead to increased election fraud in the state because voters would not be required to sign their registration papers to confirm their information.

He said one "minimal protection" against fraud is to require registering voters to sign a certification indicating they meet voter qualifications. Signatures, he explained, are important evidence in the investigation and prosecution of election fraud.

"The changes proposed in this bill neither enhance the right to vote nor protect against fraud," he wrote. "Instead, they make election fraud more likely."

The legislation -- outlined in Assembly Bill 895/Senate Bill 640 -- also broadens protections against voter intimidation and suppression. But Van Hollen said those provisions could violate constitutional guarantees of free speech.

"When it comes to restricting speech, the Legislature should proceed carefully, mindful not only of the First Amendment, but also the democratic values underlying the right to free speech," he wrote. "These provisions do not reflect a deliberate consideration of these values."

Van Hollen also warned that the proposed Voter Protection Act contains "strikingly broad and vague terms."

The 72-page bill provides that no person may knowingly attempt to prevent or deter another person from voting or registering to vote based upon "fraudulent, deceptive, or spurious grounds or information."

He also said that if enacted, the statute would create new crimes and civil causes of action - moves that "would make the courtroom as central to an election as the polling place, thus jeopardizing the orderly administration of elections and chilling lawful and protected speech."

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