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Pay-To-Play Voting
Great piece in The New York Times today by a guy named Adam Cohen on the hidden poll tax in the bill passed last month by the House of Representatives -- a bill that would deny the right to vote to anyone without government-issued ID. Now I don't want illegal aliens voting; nor do I want voter fraud. But, if the House is truly against voter fraud and not just the denial of votes to people who'd likely vote Democratic, why not pass a bill against use of voting machines like Diebold's until all the kinks are worked out? Adam Cohen has the answer in his piece:

Disenfranchisement was often motivated by partisan politics. In the South, at the end of Reconstruction, white Democrats pushed through poll taxes and literacy tests to reduce the black Republican vote. In the North, it was Republicans putting up the barriers, like New York’s 1921 constitutional amendment imposing a rigorous literacy test, aimed at keeping hundreds of thousands of Yiddish speakers from voting.

Poll taxes and literacy tests are unconstitutional today, but the forces of disenfranchisement have come up with creative new methods. In 2004, the Ohio secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, ordered election officials to reject any voter registration form that was submitted on less than 80-pound paper. The edict disproportionately hurt poor and minority voters by interfering with registration drives aimed at them.

This year, Florida adopted new rules for voter registration drives that were so onerous — and carried such draconian punishments for mistakes — that the League of Women Voters of Florida announced that for the first time in 67 years it would not register voters.

Election officials are still wrongly purging eligible voters from the rolls. Four years after Ms. Harris’s error-filled purge of felons, her successor as Florida secretary of state developed another error-filled felon list. She abandoned it only after news media pointed out that, oddly enough, it included 22,000 blacks, a group that votes heavily Democratic, but just 61 Hispanics, a group that tends to vote Republican in Florida. Just last week, a court struck down another error-filled voter roll purge, in Kentucky.

The voter ID laws that have been enacted recently have been set up not to verify voters’ identities, but to stop certain groups from voting. Georgia’s law — whose sponsor was quoted in a Justice Department memo as saying that if blacks in her district “are not paid to vote, they don’t go to the polls” — required people to pay for voter ID cards, until the courts held that to be an illegal poll tax. When it took effect there was not a single office in Atlanta where the cards were for sale.

The current wave of laws began after 2000, when the presidency was decided by just 537 votes. With today’s closely divided electorate, there is more strategic value than ever in disenfranchising people who fall into groups likely to support the other party. To a disheartening degree, this new wave is supported almost entirely by Republicans and opposed only by Democrats.

The opposition should be bipartisan. Disenfranchisement undermines not only American democracy, but also the whole idea of America, by illegitimately excluding some people from their rightful place in it.

Posted by aalkon at October 8, 2006 11:05 AM

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"why not pass a bill against use of voting machines like Diebold's until all the kinks are worked out?"

Because that is a different problem. Identity fraud is not voting-machine inaccuracy.

For anyone who is eager to say that their voters will be disenfranchised by positive ID: take a look at the complaints you have about voting practices. You must prevent your opponent from putting in the graveyard vote to get his way.

We all know about ballot-box stuffing. Just get clear on the idea that the computer can't fix identity fraud.

When so many issues are settled by small margins, that margin has to be protected. It's widely accepted that JFK would not have won except for Mayor Daley and pals. However true, his squeaker illustrates this nicely, and shows that this is not a trivial or even recent issue.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 8, 2006 8:44 AM

Identity fraud is not voting-machine inaccuracy.

I understand that they're different, and that each is a problem. But, how interesting that, despite the obvious flaws in the Diebold machines, the sell-outs representing us have passed no laws there.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 8, 2006 8:58 AM

Well, I recall laughing out loud about the idea of computerizing the vote. Hmm. We couldn't get people to poke a card with a stick correctly - and these same people going to be able to operate a computer screen more easily? I bet the same genius gets to design the look of the computerized ballot, then gets told to make the ballots look like they did in 2000, thus reducing the whole exercise to an expensive and useless computer game. I hate "digital idiots" - those who think electronics is always the answer.

Laws, the kind in the legal system, are absolutely awful at stopping the activity they are supposed to prevent. The key, really now, is to design fraud out of the system. That starts with testing, to standards already known in the industry but probably a total mystery to people comfortable in the political machine.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 8, 2006 5:07 PM

Oh - one more thing about the law:

If you pass a law against "voting machines like Diebold's", the law must, by definition, be specific, and generally this is futile.

We have laws against all sorts of things. When people commit an act which is merely similar to one covered by law, they can walk - because literally speaking, a crime is only that specific act which, when committed (note the past tense) violates a statute.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 8, 2006 5:14 PM

One fun thing; here in the province of Quebec, we need to show some ID if we want to vote at local or provincial elections. No one ever made a fuzz about it. Why can't the states do the same thing? I mean, ID is asked to buy smoles and beer but it would be Un-American to ask for voting?

Posted by: Toubrouk at October 9, 2006 6:10 AM

When a party is purposely making voting difficult and confusing (punchcard butterfly ballots that make it hard to tell who you're voting for, Blackwell and his 80-pound paper nonsense) then they deserve to be pushed from power as enthusiastically as possible.

The voter ID law would be fine if state ID cards were provided for free for every citizen who didn't already have a driver's license. A free, state-issued ID would be useful for lots of reasons. While they're there, sign them up to vote too. Somehow I don't think the voter fraud prevention enthusiasts would go for that plan.

Posted by: toledolefty at October 9, 2006 6:15 AM

I frequently vote between 7:45 pm and 8pm. Procractinator at heart.

Last night I ran to the Home Depot to pick up some 1/4" x 4" lag bolts at about 5:30 pm. Forgot my damn wallet. Grrrr. Mandatory ID could at the very least ruin my scatter-brained, last-minute voting style. (I do put considerable thought into my candidate and issue selection)

I had never considered the graphic arts aspect of voting machines before. My candidate gets a green button, yours gets a red button.

Posted by: smurfy at October 9, 2006 1:27 PM

Reynolds says nothing's better than a paper ballot! They're hard to fake en masse; they're hard to destroy; they can be thoughtfully recounted; they're cheap; despite wide differences in layout, they're readily understandable across languages and generations; they have hundreds of years of tradition behind them.

There's no reason to go to electronic voting; none. People who need to know the final tally before they turn off the ten o'clock news don't care what happens anyway. We hold these elections months before terms begin and for good reason: There's no rush.

Posted by: Crid at October 9, 2006 7:13 PM

>>make the ballots look like they did in 2000

There's a forgotten irony in the 2000 Florida fiasco: the "butterfly ballot" was originally used to BENEFIT senior citizens, because its design makes it possible to print the candidate names much bigger.

Posted by: Gary S. at October 9, 2006 7:18 PM

I'm with you, Crid. I want a paper trail. Period.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 10, 2006 4:26 AM

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