Monday, January 11, 2010

The Voluntary Voter Disenfranchisement Act

The Kanavas/Kramer Voluntary Voter ID bill seems, at best, kinda superfluous to me and potentially reckless, at worse. Here's what it does:
Under the bill, citizens concerned about having their vote stolen could enroll in a voluntary voter ID program. Here's how it would work: You go to your municipal clerk's office and opt-in to the program by signing a registration card and producing a photo ID. On Election Day, the poll worker will ask you for your photo ID before he or she hands you a ballot. Then you vote. It's that simple.
If a voter was so concerned about his or her vote being stolen, wouldn't it just be easier to go to the municipal clerk and early vote once the ballots came back from the printers? There seems to be an easier way to do this than to make voters go to up to two different locations to fill out one little ballot.

Second, is this even a problem? I looked around for newspaper accounts of someone not being allowed to vote in Wisconsin because someone had already voted using his or her name and couldn't find one account. Obviously, this doesn't mean that it hasn't happened, but it suggests it's not much more than an anomaly.

Lastly, and most importantly, this seems like a really easy way to disenfranchise other people from voting. If my name is John Smith and I register to vote in a precinct in Milwaukee that has many John Smiths, what are the odds that there will be some confusion -- legitimate or otherwise -- regarding which John Smiths, or even others people named Smith, are in the program and which aren't? It's conceivable that every Smith in a given voting district could suddenly be required to show photo ID at the polls just because one person signed up for the program. Since it's not uncommon for the extended families of minority and/or poor families, who share last names, to live in the same neighborhoods -- and by extension, the same voting precincts -- this could have an adverse effect on groups have a long history of having their votes suppressed by needlessly complicating the voting system and opening the door to a whole new kind of vote blocking. (If Smith seems like too generic an example, think about someone with the surname of Xiong.)

Proponents will argue that it's a voluntary program, but that's exactly what makes it so problematic. What's to prevent John Smith from registering for the program in dozens of precincts, but only voting in one? By not exiting the program in each of the precincts he doesn't vote in, he could be making life very difficult for potential namesakes in those other precincts. And that's just an extreme example of someone with clearly fraudulent intentions. There could be a multiplier effect from voters just being mobile during the course of their lives.

I'm sure the authors of the bill will play this off as a kind of insurance policy for voters, but in order to genuinely protect the vote the rules have to apply uniformly, otherwise voters with "special protections" will almost invariably have the opportunity to game the system.


CJ said...

Dang. Got cut off at the half way point.

Damn phone and family shtufph....

Twas fun while it lasted. Can't wait til next time.

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