Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen could be required to update his voter registration, re-register at the polls or cast a provisional ballot in a future election, a review of state records suggests.
Van Hollen is suing the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to force it to ensure consistency between voter registration records and state Department of Transportation records. But Van Hollen appears to have his own name spelled differently in the two databases.
Although Van Hollen's registration falls outside the purview of the lawsuit because he registered in 2004, his own village clerk plans to make sure all registrations match, after the Nov. 4 election.
Last week, Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi allowed both political parties and three labor unions to intervene in the case. She also ruled that Van Hollen could continue the case even though his office represents the GAB in other matters.
The GAB estimates that more than 20% of registered Wisconsin voters have some kind of discrepancy between their voter records and driver's license records that would cause them some difficulties in voting if the standards outlined in Van Hollen's suit were applied to all Wisconsin voters.
In fact, the agency's Voter Public Access database, available at its website, shows that Van Hollen is registered to vote in Waunakee as "JOHN BYRON VANHOLLEN." (The VPA puts everything in all caps, so there's no way of knowing what letters are capitalized in his registration.)
Department of Transportation records were not immediately available. Department of Justice spokesman William Cosh declined requests for the spelling of Van Hollen's name as it appears on his driver's license, at one point raising a concern about "identity theft."
The attorney general uses the name J.B. Van Hollen in legal documents and campaign filings, and he was apparently registered to vote as "JOHN B VAN HOLLEN" in Sun Prairie from 2002 until 2004.
Van Hollen is safe for the upcoming election, even if his lawsuit prevails, since he registered to vote prior to Jan. 1, 2006. That's the effective date of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), under which he's suing the GAB.
Still, some say Van Hollen's apparent registration discrepancy shows how easily a person might encounter difficulty in voting.
"It shows the same thing as when four of the six judges on GAB don't meet this exalted standard," says Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, referring to failed HAVA checks of four GAB members, all retired judges with long voting records. "Most of these are tiny, minor clerical errors, like the ones Van Hollen himself has in his name."
HAVA, passed in 2002, requires that Wisconsin check the names and addresses of any newly registered voters against other public databases, such as driver's license or Social Security records. It does not specify what, if anything, states must do with records that don't match perfectly, like Van Hollen's.
Some interpret the language of Van Hollen's lawsuit to mean such names should be removed from the list, or at least that such voters should be required to re-register or vote provisionally.
"If we are required to do a HAVA check, and the person does not match, the pollist will ask that they provide identification," says Julee Helt, village clerk in Waunakee, where Van Hollen lives. "If they can provide that identification, they vote like everybody else. If they are not able to provide that identification, they would cast a provisional ballot."
The voters would then have until 4 p.m. the following day to provide identification or otherwise reconcile the discrepancies.
HAVA took effect on Jan. 1, 2004, but Wisconsin got an extension to Jan. 1, 2006. Due to technical problems, the GAB could not check new records until Aug. 6, 2008, and has been performing the so-called HAVA checks on new registrations received since then.
Last month, the GAB rebuffed state GOP calls to cross-check records going back to 2006 and forcing those whose records did not match to re-register or cast provisional ballots.
Van Hollen's lawsuit, filed on Sept. 10, contends that the GAB must perform HAVA checks on all registrations received since Jan. 1, 2006, because all voters should be held to the same standards. It does not raise similar concerns regarding voters with erroneous registrations filed before Jan. 1, 2006.
"We are asking for that date because it is the date of HAVA compliance," says Cosh. "We are only asking that a subcategory of registrations as prescribed by law be checked."
Some observers worry that requiring exact matches between different databases will cause people to be stricken from the rolls for even the slightest variations in their names.
"This is what we're told by [election] clerks," says Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters, which opposes the lawsuit. "The lawsuit does refer to removing ineligible voters from the list. [Van Hollen] doesn't say whether these people would be ineligible."
It's even been suggested this is precisely what Van Hollen, co-chair of John McCain's Wisconsin campaign, intends. He has denied this, saying his goal is merely to make sure the law is followed.
Even if everyone is allowed to vote, the process of determining eligibility and reconciling records flagged in HAVA checks could cause havoc on election day, opponents warn.
"It'll result in confusion at the polls and longer lines," says Kaminski. "Some people may not get to cast a vote and have it counted."
The Attorney General's Office disputes this, noting that the lawsuit only directs the GAB to check the voter list against the DOT list by Nov. 4. "The lawsuit does not seek to micromanage how the Government Accountability Board ensures an accurate statewide voter list," says Cosh.
Kaminski does not object to having records checked, only to the timeframe Van Hollen is seeking.
"The HAVA matching has to take place," she says. "We would like to see it take place after the election, when election workers are able to focus on it and work on it in a more meticulous fashion, so that voters aren't penalized just because at some point in their lives they had their names entered differently into two different databases."
Van Hollen apparently falls into that category, but likely will not be penalized during this election cycle, because he registered at his current address before HAVA took effect.
That doesn't mean his name will never come up.
Helt, the Waunakee village clerk, says her office is now voluntarily performing HAVA checks on nearly 1,500 registrations received since Jan. 1, 2006. "Our intent is to have that done before the election," she says. "We're being proactive [because] we don't know how long this will take. We want to be ready in case we have to do that."
Helt has not found many discrepancies so far, but has "just started" the process. After the elections are over, she plans to also cross-check registrations from before 2006, at which point Van Hollen's own voter registration may have to be cleaned up.