GOTV: Not as Easy as 1-2-3

Having spent a little bit of time registering voters this election has taught me something about the process itself: it ain't easy. A lot of people who aren't fully engaged in electoral affairs (read: most Americans) often don't know when/if they voted last, whether or not they're already registered, or if their voting address is up-to-date. Throw in a host of bizarre (and I say truly reprehensible) laws regarding felons voting along with an abominably designed voter registration form, and it becomes quite a challenge to ensure that you're getting high quality data as you go. So, when I hear the Republicans drumming up stories about voter registration fraud, my inclination is to pretty much disregard it, because it's quite possible that I have made some of the same mistakes when registering voters. And according to Ben, at Politico, I'm not totally crazy to think these stories are overblown:

The key distinction here is between voter fraud and voter registration fraud, one of which is truly dangerous, the other a petty crime.

The former would be, say, voting the cemeteries or stuffing the ballot boxes. This has happened occasionally in American history, though I can think of recent instances only in rare local races. Practically speaking, this can most easily be done by whoever is actually administering the election, which is why partisan observers carefully oversee the vote-counting process.

The latter is putting the names of fake voters on the rolls, something that happens primarily when organizations, like Acorn, pay contractors for new voter registrations. That can be a crime, and it messes up the voter files, but there's virtually no evidence these imaginary people then vote in November. The current stories about Acorn don't even allege a plan to affect the November vote.

Now, it's true that I have not been paid to register voters, and even if I were, I would never intentionally double-register people. But honestly, when you're out there talking to people, it's pretty easy to get your wires crossed. I got a lot of "I don't know"/"Not sure" responses when I asked people whether or not they were registered to vote. And then there were the "I think I'm registered" or "I'm pretty sure...maybe" answers I got, which placed me in kind of an awkward position. Do I suggest that they re-register? Do I tell them to go online and check and then, if not, to re-register? But time is running out and they may not remember until it's too late...So, it becomes a judgment call. I mostly tried to trust the system and hope that the officials processing the voter registration forms will catch any errors. But having had to register to vote multiple times myself before it finally took, I know first-hand that the system is more than a little flawed.

As Big Think Tank Matt says about a story regarding purged voters:
Every fall you see these kind of stories, plus stories about registration drives, plus stories about allegations of fraud, etc. It’s worth recalling that it’s nowhere written in the heavens that a country must use such a hodge-podge system of conducting elections. It would make a lot more sense to have a uniform national system for these procedural issues, complete with some kind of national database of who’s registered where. Under the existing system I was, at one point, simultaneously registered to vote in two states and one “District” completely by mistake.
Honestly, I'm much more concerned about stories of mass voter purges than I am stories about a couple of pizza joint employees double-registering or people like Yglesias being triple-registered. For instance, I consider the fact that thousands of people might not get to vote this year simply due to a wonky system to be completely undemocratic:
Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.

The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run.
To me, these kinds of issues are central to the American system of government. We claim to put such a high premium on democracy that we're willing to export it around the world, but in my mind, we should work on preserving it here as well. For my own part, I've been truly surprised at my own level of non-partisanship in my concern about voter registration. When out gathering registrations, I never thought twice about registering McCain voters. If they asked me my thoughts, I would certainly try to get them to see the error of their ways. But to me, the larger goal is always fairly straightforward: get as many people involved in the political process as possible. That's my preferred method of generating change. Because a full-scale revolution takes a lot more work.

(ed: more snark covered in 2nd update)

UDPATE: Just to be clear, I am not endorsing Matt's (casual/not necessarily serious) proposal of a national database. National databases make me nervous, which is one of the reasons why I'm anti-REAL ID. Nonetheless, at least a little more coordination between states and at the national level might be helpful.

UPDATE 2: Sappy video of underage kids trying to get people involved:

John McCain should tell these kids that they need to get over themselves and start putting their country first for a change.

Nothing New byslag at 7:36 AM

1 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here):

Gye Greene said...

How about just linking it to the Social Security DB? They gots everyone's name and addr., anyhow...

Word verification: "qidag" -- mercifully short, and could be an actual word (maybe from Star Trek - a type of alien pita bread?).

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