Board: AG has conflict in Wis. voting lawsuit

By Chris Rizo | Sep 17, 2008

J.B. Van Hollen (R)

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen should not be able to sue state elections officials because their agency is one of the attorney general's clients, a lawyer in the case says.

The Republican AG last week filed a lawsuit against the state's Government Accountability Board over claims the board failed to meet the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, known as HAVA.

The federal law requires states and localities upgrade their election procedures, including their voting machines, registration processes and poll worker training.

Van Hollen is seeking to force elections officials to confirm the identity of thousands of voters before the Nov. 4 election.

Specifically, the attorney general wants state officials to compare information on thousands of voter registrations against information in other state databases.

A lawyer for the Government Accountability Board says he will file papers Wednesday seeking to disqualify Van Hollen from his lawsuit because state Supreme Court rules say attorneys cannot sue their own clients.

Government Accountability Board attorney Lester Pines is asking Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi to remove the attorney general from the case and to stall proceedings until it's determined whether Van Hollen has an ethical conflict in the case as the state's attorney.

"For the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of this state, to blithely ignore those rules is behavior that is stunning in its audacity and an utter abdication of his duty of loyalty to his clients," Pines said in court papers.

In his lawsuit, Van Hollen said Wisconsin was required to have a system in place that would meet federal elections requirements no later than January 1, 2006. However, the system was not in place until just recently.

The attorney general said had Wisconsin met the HAVA deadline, new voters who registered by mail since January 1, 2006, would have been subject to a so-called "HAVA check" to ensure that the information they provided to election officials matched the information in other public databases.

"The goal of this requirement is to protect the integrity of elections by ensuring that only those who are qualified and properly registered would be permitted to cast ballots," Van Hollen said, announcing his lawsuit.

Because the Government Accountability Board has not performed HAVA checks on voter registrations received prior to August 6, 2008, voter registration rolls include names that have not been verified, the AG said.

"Unless action is taken by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, these names will remain on the list during the November 4, 2008 presidential election and there is a significant risk, if not a certainty, that unlawful votes will be cast and counted," Van Hollen said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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