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November 17, 2004

Red Herrings in a Red State

The Denver Post isn't done with the election. Not the results, except for one excruciatingly close state House race. No, the Post has taken a look at the voting process, and doesn't like what it sees. Sadly, it's calling for solutions to problems that don't exist, and has no ideas for those that do.

While predictions of massive problems never materialized, this year's balloting demonstrated that U.S. election laws remain a muddle of federal, state and local rules that expand voter rights in some states while disenfranchising voters in others.

Congress needs to develop a rational, consistent set of rules for federal elections that are fair across the board. A judge in Ohio shouldn't give voters one set of rules while another judge interprets the law a different way in Colorado. Or Missouri.

There they go again. First, there was no evidence of disenfranchisement. There was evidence of people not following the rules, not being able to vote. Secondly, the Constitutions specifically reserves to the states the times, places, and manner of voting. The Post is calling for federal intrusion into a process where there's no evidence that the states are a problem. It's not like interstate commerce, where unified laws are necessary to a coherent economy. You can only vote in one state, just like when you get a driver's license, it's for one state.

Colorado's new rules said that voters who went to the wrong precinct had to fill out provisional ballots, not regular ballots, and that only their votes for president counted. Rules in other states sensibly allowed votes for federal and statewide offices to be counted.

Rules in Ohio said their ballots wouldn't count at all, yet somehow, that escaped the Post's notice. The fact is, the only reason that Secretary of State Davidson permitted Presidential votes to count was that she believed she had to. She never asked for the judge to rule on this, and Judge Hoffman didn't express an opinion. The 6th District Court of Appeals ruled that Ohio didn't have to, but their ruling isn't binding here. Somehow, I doubt that if Congress handed down a law consistent with Ohio's rules that the Post would be happy with uniformity.

The lack of federal guidance was exacerbated by the success of voter-registration drives. In many states, including Colorado, an unknown number of those registrations were never turned in, and voters didn't know until Nov. 2 if they were registered properly.

Actually, to the extent there was a problem, it was the voter-registration drives' lack of success in turning in registrations. Colorado tried to get rid of paid solicitations for voter registration drives, and the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. How Congress is supposed to solve this problem is beyond me. In any case, a simple call to the county Clerk's office, or if they had moved, to the clerk's office in their old county, should have sufficed.

Congress also needs to allocate the rest of the $4 billion authorized under HAVA for states to upgrade their equipment and develop the electronic voter databases mandated by federal law. So far, only about $1 billion has been allocated. Colorado is not among the 15 states that have a statewide database. Secretary of State Donetta Davidson says Colorado will have such a system in place by 2006, which should help avoid multiple registrations.

This is flatly untrue. Colorado is well ahead of the curve in getting a statewide list up and running. It's just that there's not a real-time turnaround, and we can't guarantee that the counties properly purge their roles. In any event we're not too good about purging dead people and those who have moved out of state, which seems to point to a need for a law directing the county clerks to do this more aggressively.

While an estimated 120 million voters went to the polls this year, more than any year since 1968, a huge number of people still don't vote. Government watchdog group Common Cause has raised the possibility of asking Congress to make Election Day a national holiday, possibly tied to Veterans Day, in an effort to increase voter participation. Many voters were late for work because of peak-hour congestion and long lines at the polls.

This is a red herring. The more marginal voters we register, the lower the percentage turnout will be, by definition. The reasons for voter apathy are legion, not the least of which is the sort of judicial, bureaucratic, and federal activism the Post is advocating here.

As for the "congestion," I didn't see it. There was a line at opening, but no one had to wait more than about 15 minutes. There was no line during lunch, and by closing the place was a mausaleum. Anyone who couldn't wait early had plenty of time in the evening. Over 40% of the precinct I worked at voted early or requested an absentee ballot.

The Post claims that a "good start" would be for Congress to mandate uniform rules. A better start would be for Congress to butt out, and for the state to tighten its ID requirement.

Posted by joshuasharf at November 17, 2004 05:36 PM | TrackBack

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