How to Steal an Election

Jeff Jacoby is concerned about a phenomenon discussed here last month:

A RECENT story that didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved was the New York Daily News report that 46,000 registered New York City voters are also registered to vote in Florida. Nearly 1,700 of them have had absentee ballots mailed to their home in the other state, and as many as 1,000 have voted twice in the same election. Can 1,000 fraudulent votes change an election? Well, George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by just 537 votes.

It is illegal to register to vote simultaneously in different jurisdictions, but scofflaws have little to worry about. As the Daily News noted, “efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system.” Those who break the law rarely face prosecution or serious punishment. It’s easy — and painless — to cheat. I learned this firsthand in 1996, when I registered my wife’s cat as a voter in Cook County, Ill., Norfolk County, Mass., and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and then requested absentee ballots from all three venues. My purpose wasn’t to cast illegal multiple votes but to demonstrate how vulnerable to manipulation America’s election system has become. It was a simple scam to pull off. “Under the National Voter Registration Act — the `Motor Voter Law’ — states are required to accept voter registrations by mail,” I wrote at the time. “No longer can citizens be asked to make a trip to town hall or the county office. No longer do they have to provide proof of residence or citizenship. In fact, they don’t have to exist. Motor Voter obliges election officials to add to the voter list any name mailed in on a properly filled-out registration form. Anyone so registered can then request an absentee ballot — by mail, of course. The system is not only open to manipulation, it invites it.”

As journalist John Fund shows in an alarming new book, “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy,” the United States has an elections system that would be an embarrassment in Honduras or Ghana. It is so unpoliced, he writes, that at least eight of the 9/11 hijackers “were actually able to register to vote in either Virginia or Florida while they made their deadly preparations.”

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One simple fix — requiring every voter to show ID when registering and voting — would seem to be a no-brainer. Opinion polls show that the vast majority of Americansfavor such a reform. After all, ID is required when boarding an airplane or buying liquor. Why not when voting?

Yet, incredibly, powerful political interests have long fought to block an ID requirement. The NAACP and La Raza liken it to the poll tax that Southern states once used to keep blacks from voting. A Democratic Party official says that “ballot security” and “preventing voter fraud” are simply code for voter suppression. That willingness to play the race card is not merely dishonorable; it is undemocratic. For as Fund notes, “when voters are disenfranchised by the counting of improperly cast ballots, their civil rights are violated just as surely as if they were prevented from voting.”

While I agree that actually providing proof of citizenship should be a requirement for registration and that showing identification to vote is hardly burdensome, it wouldn’t solve the dual voting/dual registration problem. Given that even infants have Social Security numbers these days, it shouldn’t be difficult to set up a national database that only permits a person to be registered in one place at any given time. Preventing people who live in New York most of the year but who summer in Florida–or people who used to live in Florida but never changed their registration–from voting in the most advantageous way to swing an election would be more problematic. Presumably, primary residency could be established via tax records or one’s driver’s license.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. It Starts With Registering Early And Often
    I have a personal anecdote that relates to James Joyner’s alert about the ease of multiple registrations to vote.

    Once upon a time, I registered to vote in the town of

  2. John says:

    As a relatively new Floridian, I’ve been watching the election process here pretty closely. FL voters are required to present both their voter registration cards and photo/signature ID when they vote in person. That seems reasonable.

    It says not much about absentee voting (and I’ve don’t that in FL, too). There are no apparent checks to preclude voting in two places in the same national election. They can catch you if you try to vote twice in FL in the same election, say by absentee and in person, but I haven’t seen anything that cross-checks with voting in another state.

    It’s certainly something that needs to be addressed.

  3. Attila Girl says:

    Americans have a strong bias against anything that feels like the government is “tracking” them. We hate it, and that’s probably a virtue.

    But we’ve had to make compromises since 9/11 for reasons of basic security, and we will have to make them to tighten up voting. There are three major problems: nonexistent or unqualified people voting; “snowbirds” voting in two states in the same election, and 3) people who “game” the system in order to vote in the more advantageous state. The third one is probably the smallest one, because at least it isn’t outright fraud.

    But I would think people with two homes should, at the least, have to commit to having one state as their official residence for years at a time, and this is where they would have to vote. This would, at the very least, make it a big pain in the butt to switch primary residences for one close election.

    Does anyone know whether it’s legal to have driver’s licenses in two separate states at the same time? I suspect it is, but if it were not that would go a long way toward preventing “state switching” one would have to commit to one’s “home state.”

  4. McGehee says:

    Whenever I’ve applied for a driver’s license in a new state, they’ve made me surrender the one I got from my previous home state.

    Theoretically I suppose I could have claimed not to have one, but that would mean taking a driving test. A lot of hassle for one extra vote.

  5. cas says:

    As a retired military member who has made sure to vote in every election that I could possibly register for, I know that what is claimed is true; the system does rely upon the integrity of the voter.
    An individual (or family) must ALWAYS register as “resident” in one particular state/county/address, legally speaking. That is ALSO where you pay your income taxes. It SHOULD be where you obtain your driver’s license.
    Military members & their families stationed overseas, and ex-patriots living abroad, are the reason absentee ballots were first created; there was no way they could get home for election day. With dwindling turnout in the US electorate, the “restrictions” on absentee registration have been reduced in most states.
    Before I actually went overseas, I FIRST made sure that I was properly registered in my previous home (“place of legal domicile”) before I left. But having worked as a “voting officer,” I know what it takes to get a person registered to vote WHILE they are residing outside their voting district. It usually calls for witnesses and/or notaries to ensure that the person registering IS who they claim they are, and that they have some legitamate claim to voting in the district they are sending the registration form to. If this is action is completed early enough, there is usually no problem with receiving your absentee ballot on time.