Biskupic prosecutes ham sandwiches, but only Democratic sandwiches

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I had never heard of Kimberly Prude before, or didn’t remember if I had, but the Milwaukee woman is featured in a New York Times front page story on voter fraud today, along with a photo of her granddaughter holding up a family picture. Grandma – Kimberly Prude – has been in jail for a year for voting illegally.

She is one of the few “success” stories for Bush-appointed federal prosecutors who have gone after voter fraud cases, real, perceived, and imagined.

The Times reports:

Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.

Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.

For some convicted people, the consequences have been significant. Kimberly Prude, 43, has been jailed in Milwaukee for more than a year after being convicted of voting while on probation, an offense that she attributes to confusion over eligibility…

“I find this whole prosecution mysterious,” Judge Diane P. Wood of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, said at a hearing in Ms. Prude’s case. “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 cast one vote.”

In swing states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, party leaders conducted inquiries to find people who may have voted improperly and prodded officials to act on their findings. But the party officials and lawmakers were often disappointed. The accusations led to relatively few cases, and a significant number resulted in acquittals.

The Path to Jail

One of those officials was Rick Graber, former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party. [And who’s been rewarded with an ambassadorship.—Xoff]

“It is a system that invites fraud,” Mr. Graber told reporters in August 2005 outside the house of a Milwaukeean he said had voted twice. “It’s a system that needs to be fixed.” with an effort to identify so-called double voters, the party had also performed a computer crosscheck of voting records from 2004 with a list of felons, turning up several hundred possible violators. The assertions of fraud were turned over to the United States attorney’s office for investigation.

Ms. Prude’s path to jail began after she attended a Democratic rally in Milwaukee featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton in late 2004. Along with hundreds of others, she marched to City Hall and registered to vote. Soon after, she sent in an absentee ballot.

Four years earlier, though, Ms. Prude had been convicted of trying to cash a counterfeit county government check worth $1,254. She was placed on six years’ probation.

Ms. Prude said she believed that she was permitted to vote because she was not in jail or on parole, she testified in court. Told by her probation officer that she could not vote, she said she immediately called City Hall to rescind her vote, a step she was told was not necessary.

“I made a big mistake, like I said, and I truly apologize for it,” Ms. Prude said during her trial in 2005. That vote, though, resulted in a felony conviction and sent her to jail for violating probation.

Of the hundreds of people initially suspected of violations in Milwaukee, 14 — most black, poor, Democratic and first-time voters — ever faced federal charges. United States Attorney Steven M. Biskupic would say only that there was insufficient evidence to bring other cases.

No residents of the house where Mr. Graber made his assertion were charged. Even the 14 proved frustrating for the Justice Department. It won five cases in court.

The evidence that some felons knew they that could not vote consisted simply of a form outlining 20 or more rules that they were given when put on probation and signs at local government offices, testimony shows.

The Wisconsin prosecutors lost every case on double voting. Cynthia C. Alicea, 25, was accused of multiple voting in 2004 because officials found two registration cards in her name. She and others were acquitted after explaining that they had filed a second card and voted just once after a clerk said they had filled out the first card incorrectly.

Brew City Brawler tells how an innocent young voter, Cynthia Alicea , almost became another Georgia Thompson.

The embattled Biskupic, who has a good reputation, has his defenders, to be sure.

Even Eugene Kane suggests Biskupic is a non-partisan prosecutor who will go after anyone. But everyone he mentions as a Biskupic target is a Democrat. I’m still waiting for the list of Republicans he’s prosecuted.

After all, some argue, a grand jury returned the indictment against Georgia Thompson. True, but the old adage is that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. The question is, should he then prosecute that ham sandwich?

Talk radio’s Jeff Wagner clutches a frail reed to defend Biskupic, saying Dan Bach, former AG Peg Lautenschlager’s sidekick, says the Thompson prosecution was reviewed by the AG, a Democrat. The Lautenschlager team was not exactly neutral at that point, you may recall, but was on a major hate against Jim Doyle for encouraging Kathleen Falk to oppose Lautenschlager. Bach even broke long-standing tradition and policy in the AG’s office by talking to the media about the investigation while it was underway, to keep the “Doyle must be dirty” stories going.

So now the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know what happened in the Thompson case. Biskupic is already trying to change the focus of their investigation.

The question raised by the six Senators who signed a letter asking for an investigation is not whether someone in DC ordered or pressured Biskupic to prosecute. That's the defense he's already making – no one asked me to do it -- and the Journal Sentinel is parroting.

"We are concerned whether or not politics may have played a role in a case brought by Steven Biskupic, the U.S. attorney based in Milwaukee, against Georgia Thompson," six Democrats wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

That is an entirely different question. Why did Biskupic choose to prosecute a ham sandwich in the middle of the campaign for governor? Did politics “play a role?”

It is hard to imagine that the answer could be no.

Postscript: While the rest of his newspaper's staff simply ignores the voter fraud controversy, the Journal Sentinel's Dan Bice points out that Biskupic brought more than 10% of all voter fraud cases prosecuted in the country, but lost 64% of them.

UPDATE: Biskupic explains his