Sunday 05 June 2011 - 10:48 am.
A recent (April 2011) “letter to the editor” of one of the local “City” papers raised an interesting question about how we (the collective “we”) view the responsibility to follow the rules regarding voting in our nation. This writer made it clear that he considers any move to establish or enforce a few basic rules to ensure the integrity of our electoral process amounts to “disenfranchisement.” I think he, and those who view this issue as he does, are solidly wrong.
The U.S. electoral system is based on the premise of “one man = one vote.” To that end, it makes perfect sense to use the approach of having people register to vote, and do so in a reasonable period prior to the election(s). This enables the compilation of proper lists of registered voters, by precinct and district, so that during early voting, or on Election Day itself, it may be clearly verified that this voter has voted only once, and done so in the district and/or precinct in which they are permitted to vote. That sounds really basic to me, and lends itself to the fewest possible problems with multiple or illicit voting.
Ah, but along come the critics of this highly-effective and time-tested system, like our letter-writer. He claims that our elections are being “manipulated” by official insistence that people follow these few basic rules. He is offended by statutes that compel folks to show ID when wishing to vote (at least 26 states now have such rules). I’m sure he also feels that having to register at some reasonable time ahead of scheduled elections is another form of voter intimidation and curtailment of voting rights. I base this second contention on his words, as written. In his letter, he poses these three questions, and this is a direct quote: “Do you believe in curtailing the right to vote? Do you think elections should be fair, open, and honest? That politicians should be elected based on a tally of all votes cast by everyone who wants to vote?”
Well, I’ll answer. To his “middle” question, I believe that elections should be fair, open, and honest. This is why I feel the present system, using pre-registration and showing both voter ID cards and photo identification, is still the best, at least on the “people side” of elections. On the “voting-machine” side, I’m an even more traditional sort. I’d really like to see the computer-voting systems eliminated, out of consideration that the internal algorithms could be “rigged.” The old lever machines remain the best method for keeping elections honest. These machines could not be rigged, except by pre-loading the tumblers, which would be screamingly obvious and would disqualify every vote from that precinct. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! You’ll not get anyone elected by cancelling every vote in your precinct!
Lever machines also lent themselves to direct access by challengers. “Challengers” are folks who volunteer for local political candidates. The purpose of challengers (often called “watchers” as well) is to correlate the numbers on the machines, when first opened, with the numbers reported by the precincts to the Board of Elections. To this end, we “challengers” (yes, I’ve done this) would be present when the voting machines were unlocked and opened, and could write down the numeric totals on the spot. This is not possible with the computerized voting systems, where we’re simply told to “trust” the authorities. This is, in my view, a genuine weakness of computerized voting, and an area which the dishonest could exploit.
With regard to his other questions, it gets more involved, because these are questions intended to trip people up and goad them into “knee-jerk” responses.
While I don’t believe in “…curtailing the right to vote,” it stands to reason that the exercise of that right requires some ground rules, to ensure the integrity of the entire process. Being willing to take the basic step of registering to vote is indicative of one’s level of responsibility, a demonstration of your ability and desire to “cover the bases,” to use a baseball reference. If you can’t be trusted to sign-up & stand to be counted, how, and why, should we trust you with casting a vote? Are you hiding something by not registering? Are you a felon, illegal alien, or in some other ineligible category? These are legitimate questions.
As to his other question, “That politicians should be elected based on a tally of all votes cast by everyone who wants to vote?” Wow, what a concept! If I take this man at his word, he means that there should be no criteria for establishing voter eligibility aside from standing in line and saying “hey, I want to vote.” The day that becomes permissible, the whole system is lost.
Our writer, as noted, contends that insisting on any established voter qualifications, no matter how sensible and basic these may be, constitutes “disenfranchisement” and “curtailing” of the right to vote. So, it would follow that all the off-the-wall ideas floated over the years, like allowing same-day registration, eliminating the requirement (where currently applicable) of showing ID, would become the new norms. Same-day registration sounds good, but would require faultless computer software to generate voting lists and interconnected data exchange to prevent multiple votes being cast. These advanced computer connections are fairly rare; big-city jurisdictions may have these systems, suburban and rural areas likely do not. Bottom line: a system based on “allowing anyone in line to vote” would leave the whole voting process open to abuses far more flagrant than anything we’ve witnessed, to this point.
While not a young person, I enjoy good health & a strong constitution. Folks like me and those with a similar level of commitment could, with some effort, throw any election, local, state or federal. One could plan out a route, using GPS or just a local road map, taking you to as many polling places as possible on any given day, so you could cast a vote at each place. Over a period of weeks, especially in a large metro area where early-voting is possible, one could tally many hundreds, or even thousands, of votes. Even on a single-day election a person could, with proper planning and an early start, cast 25-50 votes in a day, possibly more, depending on the length of the waiting lines. Using this process, one could cancel the votes of many others, and change the course of numerous elections.
Whatever one’s political views, or which candidate you might support, anyone with the physical energy and the time could multiply their vote many times. With no registration list to get in the way, and no requirement that you even prove who you are, or that you’re legally qualified to vote in the first place, well, talk about a highly-productive election cycle! Allowing such “wide-open” voting would erase the entire concept of “one man = one vote,” replacing it with a new paradigm, i.e., “the views of the strongest & most durable individual will prevail.”
I think those who want to take the current election process which, I’ll concede, does involve a few “hoops,” and turn it into a free-for-all, had better watch what they wish for. Whatever the limitations or perceived inequities in the current system, it could be far worse.