Voting is the penultimate civil right. The power of individual citizens to have their vote fairly and accurately counted is foundation of legitimacy for our entire political system.
When voter fraud occurs, the rights of every voting adult are compromised. A fraudulent vote cancels a legitimate ballot, and voters who are represented by fraudulently elected officials have lost a fundamental power. The issue of ballot integrity- protecting the election process for all of its stakeholders- is as important as it is perennial.
Stolen elections are as old as the Republic: the means change, even as the temptation persists. In the 1880’s, when states voted in different weeks, friendly railroad interests transported Republican machine floating voters between neighboring states, allowing these paid operatives to cast thousands of fraudulent votes in key states. Ballot box stuffing in Philadelphia and Chicago in 1960 reportedly delivered Illinois, Pennsylvania, and the White House to the Kennedy-Johnson ticket; LBJ certainly owed his upset 1948 Senate victory to massive voter fraud in a few small rural counties. In recent years the corrupt voter registration scams of ACORN are only the latest manifestation of political sharp practices that have been with us forever, and applied by both political parties in different places at different times.
John Fund of the Wall Street Journal has documented widespread voter fraud in certain recent elections, including repeat voting, voting by non-citizens, and tampering with absentee ballots. Many of the traditional methods of restraining fraudulent voting- purging outdated voter rolls, for example, have been taken off the table as voting methods have been relaxed. As the result, our system now seems more susceptible to voter fraud encouraged by ideological networks than in the recent past.
There are two problems that make this a very thorny issue. First, is that once voter fraud occurs, it is very difficult to undo: in extreme cases an election can be thrown out, or an isolated block of votes can be set aside and made subject to judicial review. In most cases fraud is impossible to accurately correct. What’s more, when ballot security efforts target certain communities, they can create their own appearance of abuse: aggressive efforts to police polls can elide into voter intimidation, and many in our society are sensitive to the past use of ballot security campaigns to achieve voter suppression.
Is there some way to protect the integrity of the vote by making balloting both secret and secure? I think the solution lies in technology.
One way to do this would be to utilize picture identification with a biometric component at the polls. In some countries, voters show a photo ID when they go to vote, confirmed with a thumbprint. Modern electronic voting equipment (which requires elaborate protection from hackers) could be adapted to such requirements. Some will argue that this puts too much of a burden on the citizen, disproportionately weighs on certain communities or classes, or opens the door to some manifestation of Big Brother.
I think those problems are soluble, and ballot integrity is a real issue, worth the concern and the investment. What do you think?