I voted today.
I declined to show my ID. To vote in NH, you don’t have to show ID, something my wife and I wanted to test. We found that they do let you, but they make you sign a scary affidavit which then goes into a folder the label of which I didn’t quite catch. “Challenged” something. “Challenged ballots?” perhaps. Or maybe “Challenged identities.” Certainly nothing that sounded friendly and welcoming.
So today I am challenged. Civically challenged, that is. By whom? I want a person to challenge me, not a process. Someone I can face and ask questions of myself. Why are you challenging me? Do you think I’m illegally in the US? If so, why are you waiting until I vote to arrest me? Do you think I visited the US on a legit visa in order to perpetrate voter fraud? Really? I can’t believe that. In other words, do you really have reason to suppose I’m lying or are you just blindly applying some sort of “guilty unless proven innocent” philosophy? Because that’s what I think is going on and frankly that doesn’t sound very American.
I want the America I live in and represent to be better than that. I’m a realist. I know there may really be times when we are forced to yield to doubts, to not be our better selves, but I want that held for emergencies, when there is literally no other choice. America is founded on the quaint but still beautiful idea that maybe we can hold such paranoia at bay and treat people like innocents—at least until the flood gates open and there’s no other choice left.
There is no flood upon us, no major problem. At least not of the kind being intimating by those pushing these sudden shifts of policy. It seems more like politicians, worried that unhappy citizens will vote them out, are moving preemptively to vote out the citizens instead. These moves to tighten voting regulations are being advocated by Republican politicians in swing states. They are even sometimes tightening voting regulations in Democratic counties while expanding them in Republican counties in a shameless show of partisan power.
It’s all deliberate intimidation. GOP truthiness notwithstanding, there’s no significant history of voter fraud. There’s no economy of scale in a fraud of that kind. No one would ever seriously marshall armies of people to go do that, as it would be too obvious it was happening and too easy to catch. And anyway the penalty is too high per person for any individual to be willing to undertake such a suicide mission. Only a crazy person would do it. And if a few crazy people do it on their own, without coordinating, they probably come from different parties anyway and cancel out. It’s not like any one party has a lock on crazy people. One-by-one individual voter fraud is an imagined problem.
If real fraud comes, it’ll not be in person boldly in the open but quietly in bulk via machines. Is that a big concern? I don't know. But I do think it's a bigger concern than individual voter fraud. Yet machines, which can be hugely and brutally more efficient about fraud than people can, if they put their electronic brains to the task, won’t be made to carry the stamp “challenged technology.” Machines, unlike people, are accorded the respect and dignity of being assumed innocent until proven guilty. But why should that be a surprise? This inane focus on individual fraud is designed to take our eyes off of the real risks. Who owns the machines? What software are they using? How can we be sure votes are entered properly, stored properly, counted properly, reported properly? If you’re looking for the weak link in the system, that’s it. I’m a technologist, but not a fool. I still like paper ballots and manual counting. Call me a sap, but I still trust in good old human beings.
I think I heard someone say recently that a person is more likely to be eaten by a shark on the same day as being struck by lightning than they are to be perpetrating in-person election fraud. That precise probability was probably made up, as I think there’s never been a person that happened to, and there have surely been a tiny number of cases of in-person fraud. But it's no epidemic and it needs no bad-tasting medicine.
Good old-fashioned voting’s not broken and we shouldn’t fix it, other than to make more opportunities for voting to happen and to make more people feel welcome doing it.
There are just a few cynics talking in whispers, trying to spread seeds of doubt or to fan embers of suspicion into a full-fledged blaze that burns down our time-honored traditions. And we’re letting them. Shame on us.
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