Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's plan to post state Department of Justice employees at polling places around Wisconsin is drawing fire from Democrats.
"There is no role for the attorney general in this," Governor Jim Doyle said Friday. "There is a whole system of poll watchers and of how we assure there is a good election, and I have no idea what the attorney general thinks he is going to do on top of that, when he says he is going to send special agents into polling places."
Van Hollen's DOJ will send some 50 Division of Criminal Investigation agents and Assistant Attorneys General to polling places in communities across the state. While not providing specific locations, Van Hollen spokesman Bill Cosh said those polls will be in Milwaukee, Madison, Beloit/Janesville, Racine/Kenosha, Waukesha, Superior, Green Bay, Eau Claire, Appleton/Fox Valley, La Crosse, Hudson and Wausau/Stevens Point.
A joint statement was issued Thursday by Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte and DOJ Division of Legal Services Administrator Kevin Potter, who serve as Coordinators of Van Hollen's Elections Task Force."The Attorney General and Department of Justice have express authority to enforce the state's election laws, including those laws that govern what happens on election day," the statement reads. "Locating Department of Justice staff around the state will ensure that we are available to assist local District Attorneys and law enforcement in the event they have questions or request assistance on election related issues."
Doyle took issue with those assertions. "There is no authority to do that," the governor told WIBA. "It is completely outside the election laws. He has not consulted with the elections officials in any way about this."
Also stepping into the fray Friday, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who sent a letter to Van Hollen asking him to reconsider his decision. "If, however, you decide to proceed with these plans, I ask that you provide detailed information about how Department of Justice employees will be deployed, including the locations to which they will be deployed, how those locations were chosen, and a detailed description or copies of the instructions these employees will be given," Feingold wrote."In order to try to ensure that legitimate voters are not discouraged or intimidated by your actions, I also encourage you to ensure that criminal law enforcement personnel are not deployed at polling stations. It is widely acknowledged that the presence of criminal law enforcement personnel at polling stations may discourage and intimidate legitimate voters – even where the intent may be to facilitate voter access."
Van Hollen's office has pointed out that former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager similarly sent DOJ personnel to polling places on Election Day, 2004. "I don't know whether that was right or not," said Doyle. "I was attorney general for 12 years, and I never did it. My understanding is that Attorney General Lautenschlager did it in consultation with the elections officials."
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Joe Wineke on Friday issued a second press release critical of Van Hollen's plans. "Van Hollen is pulling these agents away from their real jobs to investigate fabricated stories about widespread voter fraud," said the DPW release. " There is no widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin, as Republican U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic has already confirmed following a thorough investigation."