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Van Hollen Urges Legislature to Reject Election Law Changes, Cites Election Integrity and Free Speech Concerns

 

MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wrote a letter today to state legislative leadership urging them to reject legislation (AB 895/SB 640).  Van Hollen wrote, "the changes proposed in this bill neither enhance the right to vote nor protect against fraud.  Instead, they make election fraud more likely, chill the lawful exercise of speech that is at the core of the First Amendment, and jeopardize the orderly administration of election laws."

 

In the letter, Van Hollen detailed his concerns with the bill's proposed changes to registration rules and absentee balloting rules, as well as its limitation on the opportunity to challenge electors.  Van Hollen noted that the following changes increased the potential for or impaired the investigation of election fraud:

 

  • Populating the official statewide voter registration list with persons who are not registered to vote;
  • Not requiring signatures to confirm voter registration, whereas signatures are required for all registrations under current law;
  • Enabling citizens to obtain and submit an absentee ballot in-person, without needing certify with a signature or have ballot witnessed, unlike current law;

 

Van Hollen noted that signature requirements help protect against identity theft in registration, as well as prevent mistakes.  Signatures are also important evidence in the investigation and prosecution of election fraud. 

 

Van Hollen was also concerned with the overly broad expansion of criminal laws that relate to speech activity.  He said the bill's provisions, which create significant new criminal penalties, "are excessive and will work to suppress even permitted and encouraged speech."  Van Hollen wrote that "if we trust democracy and the marketplace of ideas, the judge of [deceptive campaign speech] should be the voters at the ballot box, not individuals in a jury box."    

 

Van Hollen also noted his concerns with creating new private rights of action to enforce new rights.  Van Hollen's concern ranged from the potential of "strike suits" aiming to enjoin speech to his concern about lawsuits relating to administration of elections.  According to Van Hollen, private citizen complaints should first go through the Government Accountability Board, which he said was "in a superior position to the courts to address those complaints in a uniform manner."  If circuit courts were accessed on election day or the days preceding an election, Van Hollen was concerned that courts, not the Government Accountability Board and municipal clerks, could ultimately administer significant aspects of elections in Wisconsin. 

 

A copy of Van Hollen's letter is available at http://www.doj.state.wi.us/news/files/ElectionLawReform_AB_895.pdf