Why Cutting Voter Fraud Hasn't Worked Yet

There is a sweet old lady who works each election at our polling site in Pacifica, Calif., the sleepy San Francisco suburb where I grew up. My mother reminded me recently that when she and my father go to vote, the old woman always asks for me.

Not to say that she knows me from Adam–she just wonders if I’ll ever show up to vote. I moved away from Pacifica nine years and two presidential elections ago, but my name apparently remains on the voter registration list there–even though I re-registered in the Bronx in 2001.

My mother jokes that she could send my father in to vote on my behalf, because in California you don’t have to show ID at the polls. But it is no joke, and it happens everywhere. Ritzy, a 13-year-old Springer spaniel, was registered to vote in Missouri as late as 2001. With her on the rolls were Alberto “Red” Villa, a deceased former St. Louis alderman, as well as a host of convicted felons, illegal immigrants, and dead people. Signs of voter fraud are cropping up all over the country this year, with fraudulent registrations in Colorado, Ohio and Wisconsin, making nationwide headlines.

We all remember the Florida debacle and its famous chads hanging over our heads in 2000. Could such ugliness rear its head again this year?

“If you hated Florida in 2000, you may not have seen anything yet,” warns John Fund, a political columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

I take comfort that California isn’t a swing state (especially since my parents and I don’t tend to agree on politics). But it is rather unsettling that someone–perhaps even that nice elderly lady–could hijack my name 3,000 miles away and cancel out a legitimate California vote.

In his new book, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, Fund shows just how dire the situation is around the country. “Even after Florida 2000, the media tend to downplay or ignore stories of election incompetence, manipulation or theft,” Fund writes. “The refusal to insist on simple procedural changes, such as requiring photo ID at the polls, combined with secure technology and more vigorous prosecutions accelerates our drift toward banana-republic elections.”

Fund details the problems in Florida and Missouri in 2000, as well as a 1997 case of voter fraud in Miami, a 1998 voter machine debacle in Hawaii, and a 2002 absentee ballot fraud in Bakersfield, Calif.

Though Missouri took action after the 2002 election to shore up its voting system by requiring that voters produce ID at the polls–a move many Democrats call “racist”–the nation as a whole has done nothing, apparently content to let this year’s election spiral into chaos.

And certain politicians are capitalizing on the situation. John Kerry and John Edwards, for their part, have been crying foul about the 2000 election from the stump all election season and perpetuating the stolen election myth. “We know thousands of people were denied the right to vote,” Kerry has contended. But, as Fund points out, every recount in Florida determined that Bush had won. In fact, a consortium of journalists came to the same conclusion.

Kerry nevertheless has announced the formation of a team of lawyers to contest election results around the country. “This ‘election through litigation’ strategy could stretch dispute over the 2004 election for weeks or months and increase the cynicism of Americans about the validity of our elections even more,” Fund writes. In other words, Kerry and his lawyers may be designing the real quagmire this election year.

This is important because it sheds light on why an overhaul of a system so flawed and so crucial to our democracy has not won bipartisan support. Meanwhile, the quagmire looms.