The rabbit hole of ‘voter integrity’

In the Reddit group that I moderate,  a diary from the Daily Kos website was linked. The points made were pretty solid- in essence, that there is a good and a bad way to protect against voter fraud- and the discussion that followed was  productive.

A person of a more conservative or libertarian persuasion cited figures figures of non-citizens or dead people able to vote. The point being that the voter rolls need to always match up exactly with the electorate. A report released in the past week stated there were 30,000 dead people are on the North Carolina voter rolls.

I decided to investigate. And thus the trip to Wonderland.

The report given to the North Carolina State Board of Elections was produced by the Voter Integrity Project NC. Their Facebook lists the group as being founded in 2011. This alone is suspicious. Big studies are not usually produced by new groups, especially with no prior work to vet. The “About Us” section is troubling, as the link to the King Street Patriots, described by the media as a Tea Party outfit- though their website isn’t exactly ambiguous.

So we have a figure that nobody has looked through yet, produced by a group founded during the election season, that has fairly evident Tea Party ties. Also the Facebook for the group mentions the director (the only person ever quoted in media) as having spoken to county Republican meetings. This does not discount their work entirely, it breeds skepticism.

Let’s move on to the question about dead people on voter rolls. Groups have mentioned that large amounts of the deceased have not been removed. But there are two things to consider here. The first is that there will always be some number of deceased people in the database. Deaths have to be reported and work their way through their various state government agencies. Also, what about all the people that die out of state, or out of country? Notification may never happen, and they will remain until someone decides to remove them due to inactivity or some other reason. Thus the finding of the Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2008 that 600 dead people were still in the system is not surprising. 19 million people live in Florida.

The key question about dead voters (and other types of ‘voter integrity’ violations) is “do [name a group] actually vote in elections?” And sometimes they do- in a large election quite a few people die in between sending in their ballots and election day. Quick math: 2011 figures from the CDC state that about 2.468 million people died in the US. Given that an election window (absentee and early voting) is about a month long, you have something around 200,000 people that will die in that period. Many of them were registered and thus will remain on the rolls for some time.

Let’s go to the main battleground of non-voters on the rolls- Florida. The initial list compiled by the Secretary of State Kurt Browning was deeply flawed– so much that he resigned in part because of that. That one was 182,000 names. The third list was 2,700. and even then at least 500 of them are verified citizens. It is clear that even a distilled voter purge is going to remove some citizens.

A big, unaddressed issue in Florida is that if you’re a minority, especially Hispanic, you may share a name with a non-citizen. There’s no proof that state governments can distinguish these with any certainty.

And finally, we have to face a decision of sorts. Is an aggressive ‘voter integrity’ campaign going to reduce voter fraud, or be able to prove that it could and that it was actually at all effective? I don’t know the answer to that question.

The other question is- if the campaign takes the right to vote from a single person, is it worth doing? What if it was ten? What if it was, say, 500? It is likely that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. There is deep collateral damage to raking through the voting population in search of wrongdoers.

I personally value the right to vote. And even if there are problems with a perfect voting system, I think it should be the highest priority.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

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