What Democracy Looks Like: An Open Letter to JB Van Hollen

When the US Supreme Court ruled last night to block Wisconsin's Voter ID law from being implemented for the Nov. 4 election, I was thrilled.  My initial response was to thank the ACLU of Wisconsin for the work they do to advocate for voter rights and civil liberties for all. As an election official, I had thought this battle was lost and was so dreading the chaos and confusion of the November 4 election - and especially dreading knowing we'd be turning eligible voters away from the polls and effectively disenfranchising them from the right to vote. I was also excited that this decision has the power to restore some faith in the system and encourage people to really wake up to how important it is to exercise their right to vote.
Then I read this from Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen:
"I believe the voter ID law is constitutional, and nothing in the Court's order suggests otherwise. Instead, the Court may have been concerned that even with the extraordinary efforts of the clerks, absentee ballots that were distributed before the 7th Circuit declared the law valid might not be counted.
We will be exploring alternatives to address the Court's concern and have voter ID on election day."
I called Mr. Van Hollen's office (608 266-1221) first thing this morning, to ask a few questions about what he meant by "alternatives" (and how much that would cost us) and to beg him to respect the SCOTUS ruling.  And guess what?

J.B. Van Hollen - and the office of the Department of Justice - is not exactly "open" to the public.

Despite the fact that I was civil and very polite, I was treated with extreme rudeness and hostility by the person who answered the phone.  Worse, she never recorded my name or concerns and I was informed that the ONLY way I could get any of my questions answered would be to send a fax or snail mail request, in writing. They "don't have a public email" and won't answer any questions over the phone. 

So I wrote a letter.  And I call on you to do the same.  Feel free to copy/paste what you want, and let the Attorney General know that tampering with an election that is already in process (and has been in process since before the initial ruling - ballots had already been printed and mailed), is undemocratic and unacceptable.  You'll find his contact info below.

Office "policies" like this are intended to limit or stifle public input - a wholly undemocratic move - just like practices like Voter ID are intended to limit or stifle voting by specific groups of people.  That's not what democracy looks like.

Don't let them silence your voice.
Don't let them stop you from voting.

Let Mr. Van Hollen know what you think today.  And let the whole world know what you think on November 4.  Show them what democracy looks like.

Wisconsin Attorney General
PO Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857
FAX: (608) 267-2779
10 October 2014

Dear Mr. Van Hollen:

As an election inspector and taxpayer, I was greatly relieved by the Supreme Court’s intervention into the Wisconsin Voter ID implementation and applauded their decision last night to block the law prior to the pending Nov. 4, 2014 election. 
Given the impossibly unrealistic timeline and prohibitive costs of notifying voters of the change to the law, it is obvious that implementation at this late stage (with no allocation of resources or a solid media campaign to educate voters) would effectively disenfranchise untold thousands of eligible voters on Election Day.  I have already seen for myself the impacts this law has had on our most vulnerable voting population – homebound seniors – and with 20% of the public unaware of the change, it was inevitable that we’d be turning voters away on Election Day.

Whether or not the law is overturned in the long-run, this decision means that these voters will have the opportunity to exercise their legal right to vote, and we will have ample time to educate the public for the next election if the law is ultimately upheld.

Needless to say, I was shocked and appalled when I read this morning that you intend to “explore alternatives” that would allow you to implement this law on November 4, and I ask you to please provide, immediately, and in writing, an explanation of what exactly you intend to do and what the cost and impact will be on Wisconsin voters and election officials and how you think it reasonable to tamper yet again with an election already in process.

I call on you to respect the decision of the highest court in the land and desist your efforts to find a way to implement this unrealistic requirement whose constitutionality is still in question nationwide and whose implementation on November 4th would be catastrophic for both those of us who work the polls and those eligible voters who will be turned away on election day because the politics of the few stood in the way of their right to vote.

I would also like to add that when I called your office today to get clarification on your statement and your plans, I was treated so rudely that I wondered for a moment if I’d actually called the Department of Justice – certainly no one on the public payroll should be allowed to treat constituents with such a tone of scorn and disdain.  Your office’s policy of refusing to record calls, collect contact information from callers, or answer any questions not submitted in writing by FAX or snail mail is not only out-of-date but yet another effort to disenfranchise people from participating in the democratic process by discouraging them from communicating with elected officials and forcing them to wait who-knows-how-long for a response.

The fall election is 25 days away.  Your antics in prolonging the “debate” over voter ID only sow confusion and chaos and serve to suppress voter turnout on Election Day.  If this is not your intent, you will respect the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States and resume your battle against democracy after the fall election.  And if this is your intent, the people of this state are being willfully disserved by their Attorney General.

/s/ Heather DuBois Bourenane

PS. For those who live in the faxless modern age, you can send the e-fax equivalent of an email by saving your comments as a pdf and faxing them for free online. I use http://faxzero.com/

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