In which I present two true stories and ask which one is the real problem?
Along with an increasing number of states, Tennessee has recently passed a law requiring state-issued photo identification in order to vote. The rationale behind this new law is that it will prevent voter fraud. In other words, no one else can impersonate me - or any other citizen - in order to cast a vote.
If you watch HBO's The Newsroom, the newest creation of Aaron Sorkin, you might recall that the latest episode prominently featured the story of Dorothy Cooper. The characters on The Newsroom are fictional, but Dorothy Cooper is a real person. She is a 96-year-old African-American woman from Chattanooga who, although she has voted in every election, with only one exception, since she was in her early 20s, was denied a state-issued photo ID because the name on her birth certificate did not match her married name, and she was unable to supply a copy of her marriage certificate. Mrs. Cooper is not alone. According to the Brennan Center For Justice (lots of great information at this link):
Many of those who possess ready documentation of their citizenship do not have documentation that reflects their current name. For example, survey results show that only 48% of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with current legal name – and only 66% of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with current legal name. Using 2000 census citizen voting-age population data, this means that as many as 32 million voting-age women may have available only proof of citizenship documents that do not reflect their current name.
It should also be noted that, as a resident of a public housing complex in Chattanoga, Mrs. Cooper has a photo ID issued by the Chattanooga Police Department. However, that photo ID is not acceptable for voting purposes.
In a comment on another blog, I have noted the fact that, for the last 23 years, I have been able to vote in Tennessee using my Voter Registration Card, which does not have my photograph on it. When I arrive at the polling place, I show this card to the poll worker who finds my name and address in the poll book. Then he or she writes the ballot number below my name, I sign the poll book, and I take the paper receipt to the voting booth attendant, who loads my ballot into the machine. This is done to ensure that there is a record that Jeanette DeMain has voted in a particular election. If someone else were to show up at my polling place claiming to be me, an investigation would be triggered. Conversely, if I went to my polling place and it was found that someone claiming to be me had already signed the poll book and voted, I could claim voter fraud.
But amazingly enough (well, not really), neither of these things has ever happened. In fact, the number of cases of voter fraud in the state of Tennessee since has 2000 is an astounding fourteen. Paraphrasing The Newsroom's Will McAvoy, "That's not fourteen-thousand.That's not fourteen-hundred. That's...fourteen." In twelve years. And that includes all categories, not just voter impersonation fraud, which is ostensibly what these voter ID laws are designed to prevent. Actually, not one of the cases in Tennessee involves voter impersonation fraud.
In fact, between 2000 and 2010, there were only thirteen credible cases of voter impersonation fraud in the entire country. I can state with certainty that more people have been injured by exploding toilets in a ten-year period than have committed voter impersonation fraud.
I have said this before and I'll say it again: Every bill that is signed into law in this state (and I would venture to say that other states use a variation of this language) ends with the statement, "This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it." What aspect of public welfare has been harmed in the absence of this law, and what aspect of public welfare is being served in the implementation of it?
On August 2, 2012, my co-worker, Min, arrived in the office and said that she had had a strange experience at her polling place that morning. It was primary day in Tennessee for state and national legislative races, but Davidson County also had a general election for several school board races. Min said that she had not been asked at the registration desk in which primary she wanted to vote, and when she was taken to the voting booth, she was given the Republican ballot. She stated that she did not wish to vote in the Republican primary and had to go back and register again. This time, she was given the correct ballot.
New technology was in use that day. The Davidson County Election Commission had recently spent $777,000 on the purchase of new electronic poll books to replace bulky paper poll books in 60 of the city's 160 voting precincts. Commissioner Albert Tieche said that the new books would "greatly reduce the opportunities for errors" and speed up the voting process. It looks like he may have been prematurely optimistic.
Both Min and I initially thought that her experience was an isolated incident. But it turns out that an as yet undetermined number of other voters experienced the same thing, as it appears that the electronic poll books defaulted to the Republican ballot if no choice was offered or made.
As a result, the State Election Commission is going to have to audit all of the Republican votes cast in the 60 precincts using the electronic poll books, and cross-check those ballots with each individual voter's history, an expensive and time-consuming proposition.
It may not seem like a big deal. What's the harm, right? But as Mary Mancini, Executive Director for Tennessee Citizen Action, says:
No piece of any equipment that’s part of any election should ever default to one party or another, EVER. The fact that the electronic poll books default to the majority party is an egregious oversight by the Davidson County Election Commission.
In a primary election, this problem where the electronic poll books default to the Republican ballot could have serious repercussions for both parties and who is on the ballot in the general election in November. Consider the close race of TN Senate District 18 where Haile lost to Coker by only 57 votes. How many of those votes were Dems who were given the incorrect ballot?
As a Democrat, I am obviously bothered by the fact that Democratic voters were given the wrong ballot, but as Ms. Mancini's second statement indicates, Republicans should be equally as concerned. And as the Documented Problems section of the Wikipedia entry on Electronic Voting details, the massive and widespread inaccuracies caused by electronic voting systems dwarf the number of cases of documented voter fraud by magnitudes.
Given the information presented above, I ask you: Which of these two scenarios bothers you more? The prospect of someone casting a fraudulent ballot without a photo ID, which has apparently happened 13 times in the most recent ten-year period, or the prospect of poorly trained poll workers and questionable electronic voting technology giving you, and who knows how many others, the wrong ballot, or otherwise altering your vote and voting history?
Regardless of your party affiliation, I would hope you agree that we need to concentrate our efforts on making sure that the latter scenario is not repeated. However, it's odd that all we seem to be doing is making it more difficult for citizens to vote, rather than ensuring that everyone's vote is recorded and counted accurately.