October 21, 2011

M.D. Harmon: Question 1 attempts to overturn a voting safeguard

Adding Voter ID would offer more protection, but will the GOP man up like Rhode Island Democrats?

If we took seriously those who say subtracting two working days from the time available for voter registration is a bad idea, there are other things we would have to believe as well.

The first is that the current registration system is adequate to prevent fraudulent voting.

However, as a report last week from the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank, pointed out, the current system is so vague in its identification requirements that it doesn't protect anything.

The lack of a driver's license or other ID, or even a Social Security number, is no bar to voting: Simply showing a utility bill is enough to register for the franchise. Having clerks manually verify identity is the only way to prove eligibility, but that is impossible with same-day registration, MHPC says.

That has resulted in a situation where, as MHPC CEO Lance Dutson has noted, "In three of our last 10 general elections, there were actually more registered voters than voting-age citizens."

Second, you must believe that people are "disenfranchised" by having to register early and must "make two trips to the polls." However, people can still vote via absentee ballot when they register, so that claim is false, too. The lack of "same-day registration" in no way impedes "same-day voting."

Third, you have to think that early registration is a violation of the "right to vote." If so, MHPC notes, fully 93 percent of all U.S. voters have had their rights denied them because they live in one of the 42 states that require early registration.

And fourth, you have to think that early registration somehow aids Republicans and depresses the total vote.

But records show that just as many Republicans as Democrats registered on Election Day in the past, and the total vote was the same (or even lower) after same-day registration was implemented as it was in previous elections. People accidently dropped from the rolls can cast provisional ballots that can be verified later.

Saying there is little evidence of ineligible voting is meaningless when the system is so biased against verification.

Advocates of same-day registration are like the person who says that, because his home has never burned down, he doesn't need to buy a smoke detector or a fire extinguisher.

In truth, Maine is very vulnerable to fraudulent voting, and that's why people should vote "no" on Question 1 and erect a barrier to it. Consider it buying insurance against those who would game the system -- and may have been doing so undetected for a very long time.

There's more we need to do, though. I was reminded of it when I got a rebate check in the mail for a recent purchase and took it to the bank. I signed the check and dropped it in the pneumatic tube at the drive-thru, and automatically threw my driver's license in with it -- because I always get asked for ID with third-party checks.

It was only later I realized that I can't cash a $15 check without an ID -- but I sure as heck can vote without one.

That's why more and more states are requiring photo IDs (while providing them free for everyone who needs one).

Of course, this has been called "an effort to block voting by minorities and the poor" or even "the return of Jim Crow," et boring-leftist-cliche cetera.

But if that's the case, why did liberal Rhode Island -- whose governor, Lincoln Chaffee, left the GOP recently, and whose Legislature is controlled by Democrats -- pass Voter ID this year? One state senator, Harold Metts, a black Democrat, said, "While I'm sensitive to the concerns raised, at this point I am more interested in doing the right thing and stopping voter fraud. Hesitation based on potential ramifications of what may or may not happen at the expense of the integrity of the system is no longer an option."

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