A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Wisconsin elections agency says ID lawsuit will cause confusion at polls

[JURIST] Voting-rights advocates and elections officials fear that a lawsuit [complaint text, PDF; press release] brought by the Wisconsin Department of Justice [official website] will effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters by causing chaos at the polls in November. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen [official profile] filed suit against the state's Government Accountability Board [official website] on Wednesday, seeking to force the elections agency to cross-check the identities of recently registered voters against names in other state databases. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) [text and materials] requires that states use databases to confirm the identities of voters registered since January 1, 2006, but Wisconsin's software was not operational until this August. Voters who failed the cross-check could vote by presenting proof of residency or by casting provisional ballots. Responding to the lawsuit [press release], GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said:

The Board believes it would be counter-productive to rush this effort and to create a significant risk, at best, of unnecessary hardship and confusion at the polls, and at worst, the disenfranchisement of Wisconsin citizens with a clear and legitimate right to vote.
The Wisconsin League of Women Voters [advocacy website] opposes the lawsuit, which it contends [press release] would "cause long lines and confusion at the polls on a day when a record number of citizens will be seeking to exercise their right to vote." AP has more. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has local coverage.

HAVA requires states to use electronic ballot machines and to create a voter registration database, but the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has exempted states which make good-faith efforts to implement the changes and has worked to remedy the lag in compliance [JURIST report]. In 2006, the DOJ sued at least 17 jurisdictions, including the state of New York [JURIST report], for missing previous deadlines. Also that year, a report by the non-partisan Electionline.org monitoring group found that more than half of US states had failed to meet HAVA deadlines [JURIST report] for updating voting machines and voter databases.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.