Who counts the votes?

Voting is every citizen’s constitutional right.” The operative word in this uncontroversial statement is “citizen.” In order to validate one’s right to vote one must verify that one is an eligible* citizen (*over 18 and not a felon). To claim verification is an undue barrier to this right would be to likewise claim that a member of a health club should not have to substantiate that they are in fact, you know, members of such club. If you walk into a club and try to use the facilities would you not expect to be challenged with a request to prove that you are entitled to use such facilities? Then why is the idea of demanding that voters demonstrate their eligibility to vote seen as an outrageous request? The typical response is to trot out some sob story about how some poor person can’t afford the bus fair across town to pick up their free ID. Please, there is always some pathetic excuse that betrays the complainer to be someone that can’t be bothered to expend even the slightest effort in securing this supposedly sacrosanct right.

The next complaint is that voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem, citing various studies that show extremely limited cases of fraud. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Uncovering voter fraud is like finding a cockroach… for every one you see there are a million more you don’t see. In person voter fraud by its very nature is all but impossible to determine objectively after the fact. It would be like determining the crime rate in a city by asking people if they have broken the law. Unsurprisingly crime rates would be much lower if measured that way. Voter ID is a simple precaution to prevent possible fraud. Car theft is pretty rare, but I’ll bet you still lock your car in public? Why? Because it is a trivial preventive step in the same way voter ID is a trivial preventative.

Could the process be easier and more streamlined? Yes, of course. For example, why do we register to vote in one process and then provide an unrelated ID to vote? We should be able to present the voter registration card (a card that every voter currently gets when they register) as proof of eligibility. Problem solved.

Unfortunately voter fraud is all too common in American elections. Jimmy Carter was the victim of such a severe case of fraud in 1962 (that by some miracle of persistence he was able to prove and eventually had the results reversed in his favor) that it is believed this is the primary reason his Carter Center now takes a keen interest in worldwide election monitoring. If someone wants to steal an election it is much easier to manipulate the vote count rather than the vote itself. That doesn’t mean we should leave the door open and make it easy for in person fraud to occur, but it does inform us as to where we can most effectively allocate resources to prevent fraud. The weak link in the chain is the human link. Sure the vote is 40 to 60, but if that information is relayed by me calling Bob on the phone or sending him an email, then I can tell him any number I want. Don’t think it goes on today? Think again.  I personally witnessed this type of fraud (vote total relay) myself this past spring (a recount was done which negated the attempted fraud). To paraphrase Joseph Stalin, “It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes.”