Thursday, October 2, 2008

Judge: NAACP, union can join lawsuit over voters' IDs

Todd Richmond
Associated Press
October 2, 2008

MADISON -- The NAACP and a Milwaukee teachers union can participate in a lawsuit demanding election workers verify tens of thousands of voters' identities by Election Day, a judge ruled Thursday.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Milwaukee chapter and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association argued the lawsuit could keep thousands of black people and other minorities from casting ballots. They asked Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi to allow them to join the lawsuit and consider their motion to dismiss it.

In a 10-minute hearing, Sumi said both groups could join the lawsuit because they have a legitimate interest in its outcome. She said she'll rule Oct. 23 on their motion to dismiss and any other motions that come in.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen brought the suit in September. It revolves around the federal Help America Vote Act, which requires states to compile lists of registered voters and cross-reference those names with driver's license and Social Security data to confirm voters' identities.

The law took effect in Wisconsin on Jan. 1, 2006. But state election officials couldn't get their cross-checking software to work until this past August.

The state Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, ordered local election clerks to cross-check only voters who registered after the software went into use. Thousands of voters have been red-flagged since then over such innocent issues as using a middle initial on a driver's license but not for voter registration.

Van Hollen's suit demands the board do checks back to Jan. 1, 2006, when the law took effect. He wants the accountability board to identify ineligible voters and remove them from the rolls.

Local clerks say they would have to check up to a million people before the Nov. 4 election, and they can't physically do it.

Democrats have accused Van Hollen, a Republican and co-chairman of GOP presidential candidate John McCain's Wisconsin campaign, of trying to knock as many voters off the rolls as possible as part of a Republican strategy to suppress voter turnout in the presidential race.

Van Hollen has denied any partisan motivation.

Assistant Attorney General Steven P. Means told the judge Thursday morning that the lawsuit is only about whether the checks should apply retroactively to Jan. 1, 2006, and it's up to the accountability board to determine who's ineligible.

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, co-chairman of the legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee, sent a letter to Van Hollen, saying Wisconsin taxpayers are footing the bill for a partisan lawsuit with little benefit to them. He demanded Van Hollen reveal how much he's spent on the lawsuit so far and how much more he expects to spend.

Justice Department spokesman Bill Cosh said he hadn't seen the letter and had no immediate comment on it.