Thursday, October 9, 2008

Casting off the ballot casters

In the push to bring their states into compliance with HAVA, it looks like many have gone too far. According to a recent study by the New York Times:
Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.
The study didn't find any particularly partisan reasons for these purges, which is good, but it does, I think, illustrate what can happen when we value kicking people off the rolls over getting them properly registered.

This certainly isn't true across the board, but more Democrats seem primarily concerned with making sure anyone and everyone who can vote is able to do so, whereas more Republicans seem primarily concerned with making sure anyone and everyone who cannot vote is not able to do so. It's a notable difference in philosophies. Both are important, but I happen to believe that the former should be our priority.

As for these swing states' overzealous and improper enforcement of HAVA requirements, I can't help but be reminded of the voter registration controversy here in Wisconsin. Aside from the fact that it's looking more and more like Attorney General Van Hollen filed it for somewhat dubious, partisan reasons, I'm left wondering just how effective it's possible for HAVA to be in its current incarnation. It seems to be wreaking havoc all over the country.

Yes, our voting system needs overhauling--you've only to refer to the 2000 elections in Florida and the 2004 elections in Ohio for prime examples of why--but I'm not convinced that this is the way to go about it. Fact is, the spectre of voter fraud so often and ominously raised is rather flimsy. Cases of individual voter fraud are few and far between, and hardly merit the panic and radical action (ID requirements, for instance) so often being called for.

According to, in the 2004 elections in Wisconsin:
...allegations yielded only 7 substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted -- all persons with felony convictions. This amounts to a rate of 0.0025% within Milwaukee and 0.0002% within the state as a whole. None of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.
So while it's important to make sure that people legally barred from voting--or people who don't exist in the first place--don't cast ballots, it's not nearly so pressing and huge an issue as some folks would have us believe. Shouldn't we be more concerned with things like hackable ballot machines without paper trails? Provisional ballots not being counted? Disenfranchisement of certain legal voters?

Fact is, there are far more crucial issues in our election system that need addressing, too. Perhaps we should revisit HAVA. Absolutely we should make sure that states are following appropriate procedures when checking voter registration databases instead of wildly purging thousands from the rolls based on incorrect information. Again, the NYT:

In Michigan, some 33,000 voters were removed from the rolls in August, a figure that is far higher than the number of deaths in the state during the same period — about 7,100 — or the number of people who moved out of the state — about 4,400, according to data from the Postal Service.

In Colorado, some 37,000 people were removed from the rolls in the three weeks after July 21. During that time, about 5,100 people moved out of the state and about 2,400 died, according to postal data and death records.

In Louisiana, at least 18,000 people were dropped from the rolls in the five weeks after July 23. Over the same period, at least 1,600 people moved out of state and at least 3,300 died.

This could very well lead to some serious problems come election day, as these tens of thousands of people unfairly removed from lists show up at the polls expecting to cast their ballots, only to meet challenges from party officials or election workers.

Frankly, registration and election laws in this country are a mess. We need a standardized, streamlined, and as fool-proof as possible system of checking registrations. We need ballot machines, like the optical scanner versions we have in Wisconsin, that are 1) easy to read and fill out, 2) electronic and so easy to count, and 3) still have a paper trail (plus, there's pretty much nothing to hack in these). We need same-day and motor-voter registration laws, like those in Wisconsin, for the entire country. And heck, while we're at it, why not consider holding elections on weekends, and let them span two days instead of just one? It would make it easier for people to find time to vote, and allow for more time to count all of the ballots, instead of this weird insistance on having results the same day.

Making sure that every eligible voter gets to have their say should be the priority.


apc said...

"But...but...ACORN is evil, and will bring us all to rack and ruin," he gasped, as he groped for one last thread of credible argument.

Emily said...

Seriously. In everything I've ever read about registration irregularities associated with ACORN, it was ACORN that dutifully reported them in the first place.

All that reaching is bound to strain their muscles eventually, y'know?

Michael Leon said...

Just like you liberals to let anyone vote.

By the way to keep up with VH v GAB et al, check out this site:

apc said...

Yeah, because they're required by law to turn in all filled-in applications, even if they know them to be fraudulent. That's the law in Texas, anyway, where I'm a voter registrar. You turn it in and tell the county official it's fraudulent. ACORN's actions are an example of the system working the way it's supposed to work, not an example of people gaming the system.

Emily said...

ML - Thanks for the link, that site is quite helpful.

apc - Exactly! And these pesky facts, though they're cited again and again, just don't seem to matter to the ACORN doomsayers. It's a little bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Since the "Evil Empire" fearmongering doesn't seem to work anymore, now it is the "Evil ACORN."

Seriously, ACORN shouldn't require productivity quotas for their paid voter registrars, but other than that they seem to be doing an honest job getting poor people registered to vote. The problem is with people like Charlie Sykes, who seemed to suggest earlier this week on his radio program that if you have to eat at a Soup Kitchen, you really don't have a right to vote.

The Lost Albatross