Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Van Hollen's Lawsuit: A Pander Or A Hoax?

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's decision to pick nits in the name of upholding the Orwellian-named federal Help America Vote Act and sue the Government Accountability Board over the way the agency is implementing the state's new computerized voter registration system has been roundly and rightly panned by the media. But it was Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy who got to the root of the matter.

Murphy assumes Van Hollen is smart enough to know the lawsuit has no sound legal basis and is going nowhere. He concludes Van Hollen must have filed it just to shore up his political base.

That's certainly a plausible if not overly charitable theory. If Murphy's wrong and the lawsuit is not just political pandering, then it is a solution in search of a problem. If Van Hollen honestly believes his action has legal merit, then he is tipping his and his party's hand on what their favorite bugaboo – voter fraud – really amounts to.

Discrepancies between databases. Clerical and typographical errors. Missing middle initials. Oh. My. God.

Whether the attorney general's lawsuit was inspired by political vanity or some darker motive surely will be the subject of speculation for some time to come. But because of the inherent silliness of the action, Van Hollen has unwittingly made people like Anna Larson the face of the supposed problem of voter fraud. The white-haired Larson is 82 years old and can't remember failing to vote in an election.

You see, the computers say Anna Larson is registered to vote in both Madison and Waukesha. An act of voter fraud waiting to happen. The new system flagged Larson and she was knocked off the rolls.

It turns out another woman with the exact same name and same birth date, a rare coincidence to be sure, had just registered in Waukesha. The voter database that is the offspring of the Help America Vote Act merges registrants with the same name and birth date, and the person who stays on the rolls is the person who last registered. It wasn't much of a help to Anna Larson.

In the exceedingly unlikely event that Van Hollen's lawsuit is successful, two things will surely happen. It will become even more apparent that the problem of voter fraud is itself a fraud. And to learn what we already knew, there will have to be many more victims like Anna Larson.

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