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October 16, 2008

Registration Fraud v. Election Fraud

Tony Soltero

Democracy works best when the voting franchise is as wide and as open as possible. That's why voter-registration drives are so important – and that's why democracy-haters are always trying to find a way to undermine them.


In the early days of our republic, the vote was confined to little more than wealthy property-owning, white males. As the years and decades rolled by, America extended the right to vote to working-class citizens, blacks, women, Native Americans, and 18-year-olds. In fact, our maturation as a nation is closely reflected in the gradual opening up of voting rights to larger and larger groups of people.


Oh, and many of the privileged members of society fought the extension of those voting rights tooth and nail. Every time!


The process continues to this day, as the same community organizers Sarah Palin is always whining about work hard to expand the franchise to include more and more Americans. This year has been spectacular in that regard – millions of formerly electorally inactive citizens have hopped aboard the democracy train.


Most Americans should welcome and celebrate these developments – and, in fact, most of us do. But the act of organizing and empowering previously powerless groups of people – especially those of modest economic means – has always been profoundly threatening to established elite power structures. So, predictably, these elites, through their media mouthpieces, cast aspersions on the organizations who conduct these voter-registration drives, throwing up enough strawmen to populate a hundred Wizard of Oz productions.


The claims that voter-registration drives are riddled with "fraud" are laughable, at the same level as the arguments that Saddam was behind 9/11, or that deregulation of the banking industry is good for the economy. Those who make or indulge such claims have obviously never worked in voter-registration themselves.


The mechanics of voter registration are simple. Every application received by an organization must – by law – be turned in to the local Board of Elections. Every single one. It is not up to the registering organization to make a judgment about the legitimacy of any application – that role belongs exclusively to the board. Even frivolous Donald Duck applications must be submitted.


At that point, the Board of Elections examines the applications and verifies their legitimacy – often with the submitter present. I've had that happen while I've submitted registration forms myself at Winchester Hall. The elections employee eyeballs the form, and points out any missing information or possible discrepancies. An improperly-filled application will not be added to the rolls.


The process is well-controlled to prevent people from registering multiple times – Maryland requires a driver’s license number, the last four digits of the registrant's Social Security number, and a home address to establish residence. There are more than enough safeguards to prevent Snow White or Donald Duck from registering. And even if they do happen to register, they still have to show up and vote and prove their identities – not an easy accomplishment. Voter fraud is very, very difficult to pull off – and those who whine about it are simply making excuses for the failure of their candidates.


Now, election fraud is a completely different animal. That has happened quite a few times in our history. But that has nothing to do with voters themselves, and everything to do with corruption among election officials. And it is certainly something we need to be vigilant about, from ensuring that voting machines tally their entries accurately to verifying the proper handling of ballot boxes.


These issues, however, have nothing to do with voter-registration drives. And we must also keep an eye out for the improper purging of legitimate voters, a problem that reared its ugly head in Florida in 2000.


So the next time you hear someone in the media bleating about any organization that registers voters, simply observe whether the self-righteousness is directed at the organization, or at the board of elections. Because the latter is where the real power lies.


And in the meantime, let us welcome the millions of new voters into the process. What could be more American than that?


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