Photo ID at Polls Could Prevent Fraud
October 19, 2004
Claims of voter intimidation in Florida from 2000 led to rumors that large groups of people will be prevented from voting next month. Such rumors are based upon inferences from sketchy accounts and discounted by factual studies.
Yet, agitation of such fears for 2004 is generating an opposite more valid worry; namely, that we may witness widespread fraud--people voting in two places or casting ballots on behalf of people who don't exist or people with advanced mental illness.
Recent voter drives have produced hundreds of thousands of new registrants--a valuable expansion of democratic participation. But thousands of registrations are suspicious enough to have provoked investigations by election authorities. Officials in states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio report organized delivery of voter cards for people whose addresses don't exist or who moved away.
Universities have reached a point of political self-righteousness where some students boast openly of plans to vote twice: by absentee ballot in their home state and also in the state of their school. This is clearly illegal. Cheaters dilute ballot choices of honest voters.
Thousands of lawyers from both parties, anticipating charges and counter-charges, are organized to dispute election results in swing states.
Much of the current mischief is the unintended consequence of reform legislation passed after Florida’s 2000 fiasco. Under the "Help America Vote Act" of 2002 (HAVA), millions of "provisional ballots" will be available for people who appear at polls but are not on registration lists. After polls close, officials will have to wade through such ballots to determine which ones are valid. A few such ballots, as Washington State had in the past, are manageable. A deluge is not.
The new law won’t be applied in a simple or consistent manner across the nation. Congress left interpretation and implementation of many statutory provisions up to individual states. Over half the states have decided that provisional ballots must be cast in correct precincts (where a person is registered) or they won’t count. In other states (such as Washington), a ballot may be cast in one place and referred to another.
Such differences are sure to inspire spirited and creative lawsuits. In the new book, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, John Fund goes so far to say that our election laws are the result of a "designed sloppiness" that serves to empower election lawyers and those who have little regard for safeguards against voter fraud. The results could include short-term confusion and long-term delays in resolving disputed elections at many levels. The presence of millions of provisional ballots will fuel demands to relax existing state and local election standards and "count every ballot." Unless officials are allowed to stick to previously agreed policies, they’ll be opened to endless wrangling.
Simply asking people for photo identification at polls could prevent many voter fraud attempts. But 39 states, including Washington, do not even require this safeguard. Americans today cannot check out a movie without photo ID, let alone board an airplane, yet some activists object to any similar check against voter fraud. HAVA requires persons who registered via mail or Internet since January 2003 show some sort of ID (as simple as an electricity bill), but even this provision is under attack.
Landslide elections make voter fraud largely irrelevant, but close elections remain inside what Fund calls the "margin for litigation." This year, one can hope officials will have the courage to enforce existing laws and pursue those who cheat.
For the long term, some sort of ID verification is desirable if we want to assure the integrity of the democratic process. It is that process that gives ultimate legitimacy to our form of self-government.
Seth Cooper is an attorney with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.
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