Thursday, January 7, 2010

Voter Registration Does Not Equal Voter Vote Fraud

Via memeorandum, I happened on an article by Truth & Consequences blog author James Simpson. Mr. Simpson and I are clearly antipodal on the political blogosphere, but he was kind enough to respond to me in comments. That discussion went down a rabbit hole of tangents very quickly*, so I'd like to actually respond to the point of his post here. Mr. Simpson, I invite you to comment. And you can call me Heath.

He points to a speech given by voter-fraud hawk John Fund of the WSJ:

In January, Chuck Schumer and Barney Frank [John Conyers - see below] will propose universal voter registration. What is universal voter registration? It means all of the state laws on elections will be overriden by a federal mandate. The feds will tell the states: 'take everyone on every list of welfare that you have, take everyone on every list of unemployed you have, take everyone on every list of property owners, take everyone on every list of driver's license holders and register them to vote regardless of whether they want to be...'

John Fund apparently has a
history of lying, so it's hard to understand what exactly he's talking about here. I emailed him at, and asked him what his source was and why he named Messrs. Frank and Schumer and if he had seen the legislation. I am very grateful for his prompt reply to my e-mail, which read in its entirety "If I said Rep. Frank, that was an error. I meant to say Rep. John Conyers, chair of the Judiciary Committee."

Conyers or Frank, the upshot of his speech is to create a Palin-style "death panel" lie out of some old news with regards to Chuck Schumer.
Here's a New York Times editorial from last July:

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law looked at voter registration in 16 countries and four Canadian provinces. The registration rates ranged from 100 percent in Argentina and 97 percent in Belize to 68 percent in the United States. That 68 percent reflects poorly on American democracy. To live up to the ideal of the founders of a nation governed with the consent of the governed, the United States should aspire to get as close to full registration of eligible voters as possible.

In the American system, state and local officials, who have the primary responsibility in this area, have overwhelmingly failed to put in place the sort of system needed to bring eligible voters into the electorate. In many states, legislators and election officials have actually adopted policies designed to interfere with registration drives or erected other barriers.

Bolder action is needed to impose a higher standard on the states. Senator Charles Schumer, the Democrat of New York who is chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, is at work on a national voter registration modernization bill.

Of course, non-partisan voter registration has long been a cause for Schumer.
Once he even got a Republican, John Cornyn, to take part, when trying to make it easier for military members and families to register. I can easily imagine Schumer taking the lead on implementing some of the changes recommended by this report (pdf), from the non-partisan group Election Protection. Jonah Goldman of the Election Protection testified on 3/11/09 in front of Schumer's Senate Rules Committee about the disenfranchisement of voters in the 2008 elections. Some of the group's recommendations seem like the kind of thing Mr. Fund would want to spin into a lie:

Modernizing the voter registration system to one that is automatic, permanent, and allows for Election day correction will go a long way to solving these persistent problems by providing all eligible voters with an assurance that their names will be on the rolls while preventing the flood of last minute registrations that strain election administrators in the critical weeks before an election. A modern election system will include more eligible Americans, will save money in increased efficiency, and will build confidence in the electoral process.

Automatic Registration: Automatic registration shifts the burden of registration from voters to the government and eliminates the need to rely on independent, third-party voter registration organizations to sign up voters. Such a registration system will help states efficiently identify eligible voters from other government databases and add those names to their registration rolls. Voters can opt out if they prefer to not be registered, but for those who want to be included on the rolls, this system will continually update the names of eligible voters, eliminating the last minute deluge of registration applications just before registration deadlines.

Permanent Registration: Every year, at least one in six Americans move, most within their state. Millions more change their names. Under current, outmoded registration systems, the process for updating registrations is cumbersome, increasing the possibility for mistakes by voters or administrators. Many voters simply do not realize that they must clear this hurdle to remain eligible. Voters should be able to update their registration when their circumstances change, such as when they fill out a change of address form with the postal service. This will lessen the administrative burden on election officials and make it more likely these voters will not face problem at the polls.

Election day Correction: Making registration automatic and permanent will go a long way to overcoming the obstacles that our current registration system creates. No system, however, is perfect. Voters who are not automatically added to the rolls, those who change their names or who move without updating their registration, or those voters who show up and find their information on the voting rolls is incorrect should be able to update that information up to, and on, Election Day. A modern, sophisticated system of automatic and permanent registration will make this fail-safe rare. No eligible voter should be turned away at the polls because her name was not added or was incorrectly taken off the list.

The goal, like the NYT editorial stated, is to get every American registered so that every American has the opportunity to vote. That would seem to me to be the epitome of democracy - one person one vote, after all. I've e-mailed Senator Schumer to get his response. I don't really expect an answer - I'm nobody, after all, not even a constituent - but if I happen to get any kind of a response from him, I'll post it.

However, to the antipodal Mr. Simpson, who seems battle-hardened into anti-Democrat partisanship after decades of political engagement, it's a sinister conspiracy. Here's his takeaway from the idea, although it's unclear whether he has investigated any sources other than John Fund regarding this proximate issue:
The problems with universal voter registration are numerous and obvious. Many state lists include vast numbers of illegals, including some states which allow illegals to obtain driver's licenses; because many homeowners have more than one home there will be duplicates; because so many people are on so many separate federal and state government agency lists, there will be duplicates, and because so many lists exist with little or no cross-checking capability these duplicates are likely to go uncorrected. Add to this the fact that Dems hope to extend voting rights to felons and the whole thing begins to look like a nationwide Democrat [sic] voter registration drive facilitated by taxpayers.

I think the "problems" Mr. Simpson sees are derived from his imagination, not from any reliable source in reality. While I agree that non-citizens shouldn't be allowed to vote, I know that any legislation that actually gets passed will be air-tight against it - see the recent health care debate. Also, the simple way to prevent a voter registration drive causing an unequal impact on an election is to defer the implementation for an election cycle - have it begin in 2012 or 2016 for example, whatever is appropriate. The Election Protection group included something like that in its report, if I remember correctly.

Like all voter fraud snake-oil salesman, Mr. Simpson fails to describe how 'voter registration fraud' becomes actual 'vote fraud'. Mickey Mouse has probably registered thousands of times on college campuses over the last eighty years, but I'd be amazed to discover he'd ever cast a ballot!

And finally, why are Republicans always interested in suppressing the voter turn-out? Self-identified Republicans are
fewer now than they have been for sixteen years; they can no longer count on a huge turn-out from southern white evangelicals to carry them over the top. If they want to win any elections they need to get votes from African-Americans, Latino/Latinas, the young, minimum-wage workers, etc.; however, Mr. Simpson assumes all those demographics (including felons, for some strange reason) are a monolithic block of Democratic party voters! Not a very smart way of creating an electoral majority, I would say.

*basically, I started in a very limited manner, asking him to use the correct adjectival form of Democratic, rather than using the noun form of "Democrat" as a modifier; I got in response the most honest answer I've ever received from a right-wing partisan. His response is no longer available in the comment thread, but if can, I'll try to paraphrase it fairly: "I use Democrat in every instance to emphasize that there is nothing democratic about the Democrat party." I found that to be a fascinating assertion, and suggested I should start using the word "Rethuglican"; but I just can't bring myself to do so. At its base, it's an ad hominem attack.

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