There were several votes in Olympia last week that clearly illustrate the philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans on election reform: Democrats are focused on fixing the problems we know exist, whereas Republicans are focused on fixing the problems they fear might exist.
I’m not going into the details of what the various bills do, except to say that they standardize and streamline registration, elections, and canvassing procedures statewide, while enabling the secretary of state to better screen for felons and non-citizens. What interests me are the most contentious points of disagreement between the two parties.
Republicans are angry that a voter registration and record-keeping bill did not include two provisions they consider the heart of their election reform proposals: 1) require picture ID at the polling place, and 2) completely purge the current rolls, forcing all voters to re-register. Meanwhile, Democrats are struggling to get a bill through the Senate that would move the September primary date back three weeks, to August.
The primary date proposal was the number one priority for Secretary of State Sam Reed, as well as every county auditor to whom I have talked. All of the Republican bluff and bluster over military ballots during the early days of the contest (Rossi has since quietly dropped the issue from his lawsuit) will prove to be just that, unless they get on board and support the only reform that assures these ballots are mailed on time. Moving the date is also the only way to avoid the catastrophic electoral meltdown that will occur in the inevitable event of a razor thin primary contest.
Ironically, while Republicans block the one reform elections experts say we need most desperately, they stubbornly cling to the one reform the experts say would be most counterproductive: purging the rolls. Forcing 3.5 million voters to suddenly re-register would be a logistical nightmare that our state and local elections departments simply don’t have the resources to handle; if you want to introduce errors and illegal voters into the system, this is exactly the way to do it.
Likewise, requiring a picture ID to vote, places an unreasonable burden on the six percent of voters without a drivers license or passport — predominately seniors and the very poor — adding little upfront security in return. The Democratic measure does require identification at the polls, but allows a utility bill or voter registration card to suffice. Last time I checked, it was a helluva lot easier to get a fake ID in your name than an account with a local utility.
But such arguments miss the point, for the most outrageous part about the Republicans’ feigned outrage that the Democratic measures don’t go far enough to stop the illegal voter problem, is that they have presented absolutely no evidence that we have an illegal voter problem in the first place. With all the time, money and effort that Republicans have put into uncovering illegal votes in the 2004 election, the only substantial numbers found were that of felons who have not had their voting rights restored… and this problem would be largely solved without further legislation, once the statewide voter database (two years in the making) goes live in 2006.
The first-ever computerized state voter database will replace 39 separate county lists, some meticulously kept on file cards.
Once it comes on line in January, it will enable election officials to make sure that felons, dead people and non-citizens aren’t allowed to vote and that people aren’t registered in more than one locale or voting more than once per election.
Secretary of State Sam Reed and state and local election officials are optimistic that the move will purge and protect the voting lists and guard against illegal votes.
By merging voter registration and drivers license data with felons lists and data on deaths from Social Security and the Department of Health, this database would have eliminated nearly every illegal voter uncovered thus far. The Secretary of State is also trying to get access to federal databases on non-citizens… both legal and illegal aliens.
But even in this last election, the number of illegally registered voters was statistically tiny… the SOS estimates maybe 2,000 out of 3.5 million registered voters… about 0.05 percent. And the vast majority of these were the felons the database will be most capable of purging.
Republican rhetoric about polling-place vote fraud is not only unsupported by the evidence, it is implausible. A picture ID at the polls is intended to stop an individual from casting a ballot under another voter’s name — a crime for which there was not a single allegation from the last election — and which in any case, would be a logistically impossible means for individuals to skew a typical election.
That Republicans would focus on imagined problems while ignoring the known ones, suggests an unfortunate willingness to continue to politicize what should be a bipartisan issue. Clearly, purging the rolls is intended to wipe out years of Democratic voter registration efforts, while a picture ID requirement would mostly inhibit voting by the very poor and the very old… a predominately Democratic constituency.
But of course the Republican’s main motivation for harping on voter fraud, is that it fits so neatly with their ongoing PR campaign, painting Gov. Christine Gregoire as the illegitimate beneficiary of a stolen election. To view the Republican focus on fixing non-existent problems in any other light, would be naive.
Actually, the state Democrats do a pretty good job of explaining their stance on election reform.