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Friday, October 31, 2008

Van Hollen v. Lautenschlager: No Comparison

by folkbum

This is a slight follow-up to Michael's post below about Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's plan to potentially intimidate voters using state Department of Justice agents in polling places.

A line of attack from Republicans this week has been that Van Hollen's predecessor, Peg Lautenschlager, did the same thing. Brian Fraley, in the comments to Michael's post, asks, "So, was it racist and suppression when Lautenschlager did the same thing 4 years ago?" Van Hollen's people have cited it in their own press releases, it's in the AP wire story, it's on Steven Walters's blog, and I fully expect it to be all over the conservative blogs by this afternoon.

However, I would just like to point out why this comparison is ridiculous. (I also hope the Lautenschlager comes out today with a statement to clarify herself, instead of relying on characterizations from the current DOJ of what her position was.) This is Lautenschlager's announcement four years ago (my emphasis):
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager today announced that the Wisconsin Department of Justice will be sending forty assistant attorneys general and special agents from its Division of Criminal Investigation to polling places in various locations around the state on Election Day (Tuesday November 2, 2004) to ensure compliance with state laws governing elections.

All of the Department of Justice employees participating in this effort to uphold the integrity of the voting process in Wisconsin will receive training from the state Elections Board in the coming week. This training will focus on the rights of citizens to register and vote, as well as the rights of those entitled to observe the election process.
Early on election day, her office followed up with what they were already observing (again, my emphasis):
Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager announced this morning that the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has already received several reports alleging polling place observers have illegally attempted to turn away Wisconsin voters with misleading and false information.

According to Lautenschlager, persons attempting to vote this morning in Kenosha and Racine were allegedly told by poll observers they are unable to register to vote at the polls on Election Day. Lautenschlager said this statement is untrue; in fact voting day registration is specifically allowed in Wisconsin and attempts, such as those reported, to obstruct the right to vote are illegal in Wisconsin.

"I want to remind all eligible Wisconsin citizens they have the right under Wisconsin law to register at the polls and vote today," Lautenschlager said. [. . .] Lautenschlager assigned Assistant Attorneys General and Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) agents into the field today at polling places in communities throughout Wisconsin, to protect the rights of voters.
It's clear that Lautenschlager's emphasis was on the rights of citizens to register and vote. It may well be that Van Hollen's crew will do some of that, I can't say for sure. However, compare the language Van Hollen is using now to what Lautenschlager's DOJ said four years ago (still my emphasis):
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced today that as a part of his election integrity efforts the Wisconsin Department of Justice will be sending assistant attorneys general and special agents from the Division of Criminal Investigation to various locations around the state on Election Day (Tuesday, November 4, 2008), to ensure compliance with state laws governing elections. [. . .]

"An individual's right to vote and have that vote counted is the foundation of our democratic system," said Van Hollen. "Citizens also have a right to vote in fair elections, untainted by election fraud. The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that every citizen's right to vote in a fair election is protected." The Department of Justice will be working with district attorneys, law enforcement authorities, and state and local election officials across the state on election day
The emphasis from Lautenschlager's office in 2004 was protecting the rights of voters. The emphasis from Van Hollen's office in 2008 is to guard against the imagined "vote fraud" that Republicans have been convincing themselves truly exists despite evidence to the contrary.

So when the excuse starts getting tossed around today--I bet Charlie Sykes already has it in his talking points pile for this morning's show--be aware that it's baloney. Van Hollen is playing the clearly partisan role of running down non-existent fraud at the urging of the Republican Party. Lautenschlager was trying to protect voters. Those are not the same, and I do not expect the agents this year to be doing the same thing the agents did four years ago. When you're protecting voters, you act differently than when you're tilting at vote-fraud windmills.

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