Democrats are pushing to weaken ballot security at the state and national level. Have they forgotten the 2000 election?
Story from Wall Street Journal today:
An attempt to hijack the state's election laws and open the door for voter fraud failed at the last minute this week in Wisconsin's legislature. But threats to ballot integrity continue in other states, and Congress may rush to pass ill-conceived legislation this year that would only sow confusion and increase the potential for chaos on a national level.
Wisconsin's story shows how high the stakes are. Late in March, a 72-page bill was suddenly introduced and rushed forward with only abbreviated hearings. The bill would have given "nationally recognized" community organizing groups access to the state driver's license database to encourage voter turnout. After the infamous registration scandals involving Acorn in 2008, this was clearly a strange priority. Requests for an absentee ballot in a single election would also become permanent (without requiring a legitimate reason, such as infirmity), and the ballots would be automatically mailed out in future elections.
Coercion and chicanery are made much easier by the excessive use of absentee ballots. Most of the elections thrown out by courts—Miami, Florida's mayoral election in 1998, the East Chicago, Indiana's mayor's race in 2005—involved fraudulent absentee votes.
Three decades ago absentee and early ballots were only 5% of all votes cast nationwide. In 2008, they exceeded 25%. Wisconsin's bill would also have allowed voters to register on the Internet without supplying a signature—thus removing a valuable protection against identity theft and election fraud.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, blasted the bill, saying it would "make election fraud more likely" and "jeopardize the orderly administration of election laws." In the end, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker admitted the bill was being rushed through too quickly and adjourned the session without brining it up for a vote.
Democratic leaders also worried that a popular amendment to require photo ID at the polls would have been attached to their measure. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has vetoed three previous photo ID laws, even though Democrats such as state Sen. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee supported them saying he's seen "eye opening" public support for the idea.
That backing is based on real evidence. In 2004, John Kerry won Wisconsin over George W. Bush by 11,380 votes out of 2.5 million cast. After allegations of fraud surfaced, the Milwaukee police department's Special Investigative Unit conducted a probe. Its February 2008 report found that from 4,600 to 5,300 more votes were counted in Milwaukee than the number of voters recorded as having cast ballots. Absentee ballots were cast by people living elsewhere; ineligible felons not only voted but worked at the polls; transient college students cast improper votes; and homeless voters possibly voted more than once.
Much of the problem resulted from Wisconsin's same-day voter law, which allows anyone to show up at the polls, register and then cast a ballot. ID requirements are minimal. The report found that in 2004 a total of 1,305 "same day" voters were invalid.
The report was largely ignored, and just before the 2008 election the police department's Special Investigative Unit was ordered by superiors not to send anyone to polling places on Election Day.
In January of this year, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, the city prosecutor overseeing election issues, complained that the Milwaukee Police Department was stalling its investigation of voter fraud in the 2008 election. "Sadly, [the prosecution of] several probable cases of genuine voter fraud were harmed by that delay," he wrote in an email to a city elections official that was revealed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A spokesman for the Police Department responded that "we have investigated every case that has been forwarded to us."
Wisconsin's bitter partisanship on election issues isn't found everywhere. In neighboring Minnesota, the Democratic legislature and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty cooperated this year in passing reforms to address problems from the controversial 2008 recount that handed Democrat Al Franken a U.S. Senate seat.
The legislature approved several reforms proposed by the Center for the American Experiment, a local think tank. They included clarifying what ballots should be included in recounts (to keep the issue out of the courts) and moving towards centralizing absentee ballot counting.
Sadly, it looks as if Congress could follow Wisconsin's example instead. The Milwaukee Police Department's report on the 2004 election concluded "the one thing that could eliminate a large percentage of the fraud" would be to end same-day registration. Today, eight other states have some form of Election Day voter registration: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wyoming. Montana began Election Day voter registration in 2006, North Carolina in 2007, and Iowa in 2008.
But Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, has introduced federal legislation to mandate same-day registration in every state, claiming the system has worked well in his state. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is readying a bill to override the election laws of all 50 states and require universal voter registration—which would automatically register anyone on key government lists. This is a move guaranteed to create duplicate registrations, register some illegal aliens, and sow confusion.
We are in danger of forgetting the lessons of the 2000 recount debacle in Florida. Election laws should be clear, simple, applied equally, and balance ease of voting with the need for ballot integrity. A unanimous Supreme Court warned about the danger of loose election laws when it vacated a Ninth Circuit opinion, which had enjoined the use of Arizona's new voter ID law on the grounds it would disenfranchise voters.
The court made the obvious point that "disenfranchisement" is a two-way street. Fraud, it noted in Gonzales v. Arizona (2006), "drives honest citizens out of the democratic process. . . . [V]oters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised."
What almost happened in Wisconsin this month—and could happen in Washington later this year—would increase chances of future Florida-style meltdowns and further undermine confidence in our election system.To see the story
Mr. Fund is a WSJ.com columnist and author of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy" (Encounter, 2008).