Thursday, September 16, 2004


Disquieting article by Jeff Jacoby (thanks to Vodkapundit for the link)
It is illegal to register to vote simultaneously in different jurisdictions, but scofflaws have little to worry about. As the Daily News noted, "efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system." Those who break the law rarely face prosecution or serious punishment. It's easy -- and painless -- to cheat.

I learned this firsthand in 1996, when I registered my wife's cat as a voter in Cook County, Ill., Norfolk County, Mass., and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and then requested absentee ballots from all three venues. My purpose wasn't to cast illegal multiple votes but to demonstrate how vulnerable to manipulation America's election system has become.
How fouled up are the voter rolls? So fouled up that in some cities there are more registered voters than there are adults. So fouled up that when the Indianapolis Star investigated Indiana's records a few years ago, it discovered that hundreds of thousands of names -- as many as one-fifth of the total -- were "bogus" since the individuals named had moved, died, or gone to prison. So fouled up that when a Louisiana paper filed 25 phony voter registration forms signed only with an "X," 21 were approved and added to the voter list.
Given that this presidential election has the potential to be as close as the last one, this is troubling news. Jacoby points to several left-leaning organizations that have resisted some suggested ways of fixing the problem:
Yet, incredibly, powerful political interests have long fought to block an ID requirement. The NAACP and La Raza liken it to the poll tax that Southern states once used to keep blacks from voting. A Democratic Party official says that "ballot security" and "preventing voter fraud" are simply code for voter suppression.
But I think this is a problem that could very easily cut both ways and one that clearly transcends partisan politics. If we have another election as bitterly contested as the last one, and if it emerges that the type of voting fraud Jacoby describes took place in any significant numbers, I fear that many citizens' trust in their own democratic institutions will be significantly undermined. And no one--Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Green--wins in that scenario.

ID requirements or other reform measures might help to reduce the amount of fraud, but at the end of the day, the main thing that will make the difference is the decision of individuals to stand up and defend America's democratic institutions. By this I mean that given that such fraud seldom takes place in a complete vacuum, what is the response of those who observe or who are aware of the fraud taking place? Do they applaud it (as long as it means that Bush (or Kerry) loses)? Do they conclude that it is none of their business? Do they give their friend/acquaintance/family member a good tongue lashing and tell them in no uncertain terms that such behavior is inappropriate? Do they turn them in to the authorities? Until a significant number of Americans decide to do one of the latter two, all the ID requirements in the world will probably not eradicate the problem.

End soap-box rant for the day.

Dr. Larsen:

Think of the logistics of the manpower necessary for ensuring that people use legitimate IDS and don't manipulate the system to their advantage. Most states don't want to pay for updating their voting machines, let alone insuring the proper identities of voters. The volunteers who work at the polls can be apathetic, so professional ID checkers may be necessary, which would cost states even more money that they may not have or wish to spend. Such are the risks of local control of a representative democracy.
I agree that the costs of enforcement would be enormous, probably prohibitively so. Hence, my naive plea that American citizens actually behave like citizens who care about their system of democracy. Sadly, that probably won't work either.
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