The Campaign Spot

There’s No Reason For Paranoia About Purging Voter Rolls

Ben Smith adjusts an earlier report that indicated that Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher isn’t registered to vote – turns out Joe is his middle name and he’s in there as “Worzelbacher,” not “Wurzelbacher.”

He adds, “This is, incidentally, the reason people worry about purging the voter rolls. They’re such a mess to begin with.”

Oh, come on. If there’s a typo in the voter rolls, I trust local election officials to sort it out and ensure that that provisional ballot is used and subsequently counted once it’s certain that the voter in question is the person on the registered voter list. That’s exactly what provisional ballots are there for, and that’s exactly the job of local election officials.

When somebody dies, they’re supposed to come off the voter list. (Roy Scheider apparently somehow managed to donate to Obama one month after he died.) When somebody moves, they’re supposed to come off the voters list. (This is how you end up with New York/Florida snowbirds voting twice, once in each state.) This is basic stuff to ensure one (living) person, one vote.

By the way, note that the Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has gone to the Supreme Court to fight a ruling that she has to cross-check the names of 666,000 new or updated voter registrations since Jan. 1 against a state driver’s license database, and report the results to local elections boards.She’s already admitted that “a cursory review found that about 200,000 of the 666,000 had provided a driver’s license or Social Security number that does not match government records.”

UPDATE: Smith updates again:

“Provisional ballots are not a substitute for actually voting,” said [Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal legal group involved in litigation in those states], who pointed to data suggesting provisional ballots are rejected at a high rate, and that voters who are told their names don’t appear on the rolls often simply walk away.

This is ridiculous. Every ballot from every person who shows up at the polls is to be counted, even if their ID doesn’t match the voter registration information, out of the fear that a voter may not have the patience to clear up the discrepencies between their official records and the name on the voter rolls? Then why ever remove any name from the voter rolls? Why even have voter registration? Why not just turn the election into a race to see which candidate can get supporters to vote the most times?

Provisional ballots are precisely a substitute for voting when the identity of the voter is in dispute. “Data suggesting provisional ballots are rejected at a high rate” isn’t, ipso facto, a sign of mass disenfranchisement. Waldman’s argument assumes those folks’ ballots were rejected for no good reason, when in fact they may have registered elsewhere, or they may not have been registered to vote at all, or they may not be the voter they claim to be.

A voter has a certain amount of responsibility in this process, namely to see that they’re registered and that the information on the voter roll is accurate. A provisional ballot is designed for these cases. If you want to argue that you don’t trust election workers to sort out the discrepencies reasonably, you can join the club for those of us who wondered about why Gary, Indiana reported its votes so much later than every other county in the state in this year’s primary, or why Shannon County, South Dakota, waited until every other county had reported to turn in its votes, revealing that – surprise! — Tim Johnson had won just enough votes to win his Senate race in 2002.

Forcing a legitimate voter to fill out a provisional ballot at least allows recourse for the vote to ultimately be tabulated in the total. Allowing a fraudulent voter to cast a vote allows no recourse, and ultimately lessens the franchise for you, me, and everyone else who votes legitimately.

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