Wisconsin Assembly Bill 353 would restore the right to vote to roughly 40,000 “citizens” (if a resident with absolutely no input on their leaders can be considered a citizen) currently on probation or parole for a felony. These people are taxpaying members of society contributing as much or as little as anyone else, except they committed a crime in the past and got caught. This bill would not put polls in prisons, just offer the felons still serving time on probation or parole the ability to participate in the most fundamental act in our democracy.
Current Wisconsin law grants voting rights to convicted felons only after the completion of any probation or parole handed down in sentencing. A bill similar to AB 353 failed to pass the last session of the WI legislature, but with Democrats taking control of the Assembly this year (for a total of both houses of the legislature and the governors office) this bill stands a much better chance, unless Attorney General JB Van Hollen has his way. His office, The Department of Justice, issued a press release last month stating his opposition to AB 353. Some of his stated concerns;
Potential voter fraud connected with the proposal, increased burdens on the criminal justice system, judges and voting officials and unanswered technical issues of custody status not addressed in the bill.
Van Hollen offers no evidence as to potential voter fraud, and is refuted in a WPR story;
Opponents of the measure are worried that parolees who are revoked just before an election, may try to vote absentee. But state elections board director Kevin Kennedy says current state laws would prevent that.
Not to mention a felon on his way back to jail is not going to make voting absentee his last act as a free man. As to increased burdens on the justice system and officials? A Department of Administration analysis (page 5) determined that up to $14, 000 could be saved without distributing lists of felons on probation and parole to election officials. I think the voting process would be simpler if an election official did not have to concern themselves with the probation or parole status of a potential voter.
The press release from Van Hollen’s state-funded Department of Justice website also appears on his personal campaign website. This is a questionable act, seemingly mixing state business with political business.
Van Hollen picks-and-chooses the cases he wants to work on. He issues negative statements about laws before the legislature that if passed, would be his job to defend. It appears he mixed state business and campaign politics.
Democrat Scott Hassett has filed to run against Van Hollen for Attorney General in 2010 (assuming my prediction is wrong, as usual, and Van Hollen does not run for governor). I can’t find a website for Hassett, all I know is he was head of the DNR for five years, and has to be better than the incumbent. Maybe I’ll vote for him…