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Views from around the state: Don’t change money for CCAP, legal services

From The Post-Crescent Gazette (Appleton), April 26:

As the details of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plans continue to be unearthed, we’re finding more ways the cuts could creep into our lives.

A new concern is a funding structure change that could hurt the state’s online court database and eliminate a free legal aid program.

Walker wants to reallocate filing fees collected by Wisconsinites using the circuit court system. The $21.50 collected now is split up, and $6 of it goes to the Consolidated Court Automation Program and $4 of it goes to legal services for the poor.

The proposal would send the money to the state’s general fund, which would then give money to the programs.

That’s where the fears come in. The court filing fees should stay within the court system to help it run smoothly, and that includes parceling out money for CCAP and for legal aid for the poor.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said CCAP’s funding must remain intact. She said the court system depends on it.

She’s right. So many other people rely on it, too. Attorneys use it for research, crime victims and suspects use it to check the status of their cases, and reporters use it to check criminal records and hearings. Frankly, anyone can use it to check another person’s involvement in the court system.

The Wisconsin Court System’s website even notes its importance: “The (court system’s) heavy workload has made technology increasingly critical for helping individuals resolve legal issues and allowing the criminal justice system to operate efficiently.”

And if the state takes away legal aid for the poor, it’s not just hurting criminal suspects. It’s hurting abused women, elderly scam victims, single parents and discrimination victims.

We understand Walker is trying to reduce our deficit, but this plan could end up costing us in the long run.

From the Stevens Point Journal, April 28:

Taxpayers will foot bill to restore integrity

It’s unfortunate Wisconsin taxpayers will have to pay for a recount in the state Supreme Court race, but despite the cost, it’s probably for the best.

Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg requested the recount after final county vote totals showed incumbent Justice David Prosser with a 7,316-vote lead. That’s roughly one-half of 1 percent of the 1.5 million votes cast in the April 5 election. It falls below the level that would have required the candidate to pay for the recount.

The statewide recount began recently.

If it were just a matter of simple math, Kloppenburg might not have been so quick to request a recount. She originally claimed victory when results showed she had a 200-vote lead.

Then the Waukesha County clerk said she failed to report 14,000 votes, which gave Prosser the lead. The clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, worked for Prosser when he was the Republican Assembly speaker in the mid-1990s.

This particular election was seen by many as a WDH — Body Copyendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious collective bargaining law, which strips public employees of many union rights and requires them to contribute more to their pensions and health care.

These seemingly potential ties to Republicans raise questions about the accuracy of the votes or at least the process of counting them.

But a recount isn’t a simple thing to undertake. Votes will be counted by hand in 31 counties, including in some smaller Portage County towns and villages. There is a specific process to verify the ballots before they are fed into machines to be counted again or counted by hand. Both campaigns will have a representative present at the recounts in each county. Those representatives can request certain ballots be counted by hand, as well.

Portage County Clerk Shirley Simonis said the first day of the recount went smoothly, adding there were no major arguments or issues. Workers will continue counting daily — except Sundays — until the recount is complete or until the May 9 deadline.

Simply looking at the ballots could be a challenge. Poll workers know voters sometimes decline to take another ballot if they make a mistake. Those ballots aren’t counted, but attorneys for the campaigns could argue the intent of the voter and have them included. Using the wrong color or type of pen or pencil can invalidate a ballot. Making a stray mark or circling a name rather than drawing a line can invalidate a ballot.

Who doesn’t remember Florida’s hanging chads? While Wisconsin ballots are better, there still is margin for error on the part of those voting and those poll workers who conduct it. Each ballot must be signed by two poll workers. Absentee ballots and early votes must be handled in specific ways. Any slip-ups can cause the process to stall.

All of this adds up to taxpayer expense. Costs vary widely according to a survey of county clerks done by the Associated Press.

Cost estimates — to pay canvass workers and county clerk staff overtime — range from $120 in Price County to $500,000 in Milwaukee County. As of late, Simonis didn’t have an estimate for Portage County.

And yet, without the recount, there would have been complaints that it wasn’t a clean election. Kloppenburg has stressed the need to shine a light on how the election was conducted. The recount should restore the integrity of the election process. It’s just a shame there is a cost involved.

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