U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic’s prosecution of Kimberly Prude, 43, a grandmother of three, for illegally voting in Milwaukee while still on probation has embarrassed this state.
“I find this whole prosecution mysterious,” declared Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. “I don’t know whether the Eastern District of Wisconsin goes after every felon who accidentally votes. It is not like she voted five times. She voted once.”
In 19 other states, which allow any felons released from jail to vote, Prude’s ballot would have been legal. The whole point of a corrections system is to reintegrate offenders into society and the democratic system, and voting is one step on that journey. Prude’s excess of civic zeal was barely worthy of notice. At worst, she deserves a slap on the wrist, not a two-year sentence in jail.
Last week, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Wisconsin announced its support of legislation that would allow any felon who is not incarcerated to vote.
“Voting registration lists must be double-checked against lists of people on probation or parole,” the group’s executive director Andrea Kaminski declared. “Why not make the poll worker’s job less complicated and offer felons the opportunity to participate and reintegrate into society?”
The league, by the way, is very concerned about any voter fraud – specifically, double voting. That problem, Kaminski notes, could be better policed by poll workers if resources and time were not devoted to preventing felons on probation or parole from voting. And the ban on felons voting, she adds, means fewer blacks voting since they are far more likely than whites to be incarcerated.
The original complaint of Republicans was very persuasive: Every double vote cancelled out a legal vote and undermined the system. But it turned out there was little proof of double voting and no evidence of organized fraud. Yet to appease the Republicans, the Journal Sentinel and Biskupic have engaged in a witch hunt of a few pathetic felons. In the process, we’ve lost sight of a goal all could agree on – to make elections as fair and free as possible.
Leading up to the 2004 election, Republicans and talk radio relentlessly pressured the Journal Sentinel to report on the so-called problem of voter fraud. After the election, reporter Greg Borowski began investigating the problem, and prodded by managing editor George Stanley, Borowski wrote countless stories looking at possible problems with the city of Milwaukee’s election process. It became a months-long crusade to convince readers the system was broken, and it convinced many. In its search for anything questionable, the JS also began looking at the issue of felons voting and found a few examples of this.
The blizzard of stories all but forced legal authorities to examine the problem to restore public confidence in the electoral process. Then District Attorney E. Michael McCann asked Biskupic to jointly investigate. They found no evidence of any organized conspiracy to commit fraud and only a few possible examples of double voting and voting by felons.
After so many stories suggesting widespread fraud, you might think the JS would follow up with stories on who was being prosecuted and why. Nope. It was left for the New York Times to report on the situation. The quote above from Judge Wood appeared in the JS only after it was reported in the New York Times. The pathetic story of Kimberly Prude was reported first by the Times, then by the JS. The Times noted that not one prosecution by Biskupic for double voting was successful, a fact not reported by the JS.
Worse, as Democratic politicians began accusing Biskupic of going after voter fraud merely to win points with the Bush administration, the JS did several stories examining these allegations. It left readers wondering whether Biskupic was simply a shill for federal Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove when Biskupic was actually moved to action by an unprecedented barrage of coverage by the state’s largest newspaper.
Prude was on six year’s probation for trying to cash a counterfeit county government check worth $1,254. This fact, too (which might help us evaluate just how bad a criminal she was), wasn’t reported by the JS. The legal system gave her probation for passing a bad check but two years in jail for voting? Unbelievable.
The U.S. attorney, some have argued, is the most powerful federal official of all, with tremendous autonomy in whom he or she targets for prosecution. That power has been ably used to go after corrupt Wisconsin politicians and is currently aimed at Alderman Mike McGee for (among other alleged offenses) what appears to be a money-for-votes conspiracy. Do we really want the power of that office wasted on two-bit cases involving grandmothers on probation who misunderstood the guidelines for voting by felons?
We should take our cue from the League of Women Voters and legalize voting by any felons released from jail. We should save the limited resources of the state to maintain accurate voting lists and go after serious voter corruption.
Will The M-7 Plan Work?
The gist of last week’s Milwaukee 7 report: The “machine shop to the world” must become the world’s “design shop.” Well, that should be simple. We don’t even have to stop being a shop.
The bottom line is that a city that relied on manufacturing and prospered with less college-educated workers than many metro areas has to get more educated. We need more engineers, computer technicians and scientists.
There are only two ways to do that: a great university that graduates them and a really cool urban scene that attracts young professionals from elsewhere. The reality is that the old Wisconsin separation of major university (in Madison) and major private sector city (Milwaukee) is no longer viable. If policymakers in this state want their biggest metro area to be a vibrant job creator, it must have a stronger university. Nearly as important is to continue building a high-density urban core with great restaurants, bars, condos, arts galleries and the like. Innovative entrepreneurs will be attracted to a city with a real urban buzz.
The report also seemed to suggest the city can pick the winners for this economy by recruiting “next generation” manufacturing companies to Milwaukee. Certainly we want to build on the strengths of the old manufacturing economy, but I’m not sure you can direct where the economy will grow. By far the most important insight is one that has gradually been dawning on this community: Without a major university, this city will inevitably become minor league.
-The plan to preserve the green space along the Milwaukee River is a great idea, but there should be zoning that allows some high-rise development just west or east of the green space. Green spaces in the city get better when contrasted to urbanity. And the city yields more taxable property.
-How serious is the search for a new police chief when no search firm was hired and when no candidate can be paid more than the mayor, who earns $142,000. Will any top national candidates apply?
-Last week’s Business Journal roundup of the top paid executives in town shows it’s great to work for Kohl’s Corp. and Joy Global Inc. Compensation for four Kohl’s executives ranged from $25.6 million for CEO R Lawrence Montgomery to $2.2 million for senior executive V.P. Thomas Kingsbury. Compensation for five Joy Global execs ranged from $16.7 million for retired CEO John Nils Hanson to $2.3 million for executive V.P. Dennis Winkleman.
Executives at both companies are earning millions in stock options, but how about the rank-and-file employees? How much stock do they get? Why don’t they see similar raises as the company grows? Why does their work count for so little?
And don’t miss critic Ann Christenson’s Dish on Dining.