Thursday, January 13, 2005

Election Fraud

Powerline makes the case for strengthening our laws against electoral fraud. I'm going to thread a bunch of needles here, because I agree with their conclusion while disagreeing with virtually all their warrants (which essentially boil down to: "It's the Democrats fault." Bad way to start).

They give three examples of "electoral fraud": Election 2000, where Gore "tried to steal the Presidency...and nearly succeeded," the 2004 Washington Governor race, where it "appears reasonably clear that the Democrats stole [the] race, and...will probably get away with it," and an alleged 46,000 voters registered to vote in both New York and Florida. Now, on the former, many Democrats (myself included) might be inclined to switch who was doing the stealing. If there was any case in the long line of legal mush that became Election 2000, it was the Supreme Court decision that was utterly and completely out of line (basically, it concocted a federal issue as a pretext for telling state judges how to interpret state law--a federal no-no.). To the middle case, its entirely possible that the voters were REGISTERED in both states but only voted in one (or didn't vote in either). Many people retire to Florida, or live part-time there. Is it inconceivable that they might have accidentally forgotten to cancel one of their registrations when they moved? I registered to vote in Minnesota when I got to college, but I'm not 100% positive that my Maryland registration is canceled. I can assure the folks at Powerline that I only voted in the snowball state, but perhaps they would like to check and see if evil college students like myself stole Minnesota from Bush's column as well. To the latter, even Rossi himself has (laudably) emphasized that nobody was trying to "steal the election". I'm sympathetic to Rossi's position, and part of the reason why is that he has been meticulous in casting the controversy as an issue of fairness, not partisanship. Powerline would do well to follow his lead. All of this, of course, raises the inevitable question: Is it possible for Powerline to address a real problem without a prerequisite level of sniping at Democrats? But I digress.

The point about who is doing the stealing isn't really relevant, because a stronger system would go far in alleviating the paranoia and conspiracy theories that are running rampant on both sides today. A system that prevents fraud would (presumably) prevent it equally by both parties, so if both parties feel they are the victim than both should support stronger statutes. At the same time, the OVERRIDING GOAL must be to make sure everybody's vote counts. This is why I support liberal "voter intent" constrictions. If someone checks off a box for "Bush," then, under a line for write-in candidates that says "Write Candidate's Name Here" writes "Bush" again, I think we can fairly say that's a vote for Bush. It shouldn't be tossed out as an overvote. And while preventing fraud is absolutely imperative, it is equally important that all legal voters get to vote. Provisional ballots are a step in the right direction, but it is also important to provide enough voting stations in crowded urban areas, and to cut down on the bureaucratic red tape so it is easier both for voters and officials to see who has voted and who is registered to vote.

Powerline says we need to "upgrade our electoral system and guard its integrity with at least the fervor that we bring to preventing, say, underage drinking." Speaking as an 18 year old college student, I think that's unfortunately about the level we care about it now.


Eben Flood said...

Speaking on Florida 2000, wasn't SCOTUS almost 'forced' into stepping in because the Florida Supreme Court was handing down outrageous decisions? They were setting aside Florida law, in the middle of a recount, and in effect writing new law from the bench.

I agree, SCOTUS' involvement was not desirable but the egregious actions of the Florida Supreme Court had to be stopped by someone.

David Schraub said...

Unfortunately, that isn't the SCOTUS' job. I'm not sure that the FL Sup Ct was making "outrageous" decisions (at this point, I think "activism" means "decision I disagree with," so I'm always skeptical of claims that any judge is "writing law from the bench."), I'd have to read the opinions more indepth to be sure. As a matter of my personal view, as I noted before, I think the standard for any election should be making sure every vote counts, and where voter intent can be discerned, then we should count that vote.

However, regardless of whether the FL SC was right or wrong as a matter of law, the Supreme Court does NOT have jurisdiction to rule on what a state constitution says. It being a federal court, ONLY has jurisdiction over federal issues. As Justice Ginsburg noted, there really was no federal issue at stake here, since election rules are constitutionally set at the state level (by state legislatures and thus interpreted by state judges). The court concocted a specious 14th amendment issue so it could rule on the case, but under any other circumstance the rightwing would be apoplectic at the Court's...overly broad?...application of the 14th amendment to circumvent a state court's ruling a state law. That violates every principle of judicial federalism and restraint that exists in our country. Of course, even buying the 14th amendment application, the Court went the wrong way about resolving it, in essence saying that "because some counties aren't recounting all their votes by hand, nobody can do it." That's playground logic, not what'd you'd expect from the highest court. If someone's right to vote is being violated, we don't "resolve" the harm by violating EVERYONE's right to vote, we solve the problem by COUNTING everyone's vote. That strikes me as an issue of simple logic, but the Court clearly had a different idea on the matter.