Nobody’s voting the graveyard

By David T. Jones on May 16, 2014

Washington DC - There is nothing more vital to a democracy than the legitimacy of the vote.

It doesn’t matter whether your speech is free; whether the press/media publishes without stint; whether political parties organize and demonstrate without restraint—if authorities tamper with your ballot and the vote manipulated, your democracy is a travesty.

Thus the integrity of each individual ballot must be an absolute.  Moreover, voters must believe that the votes of others are legitimate.  We have more than enough sources of political conflict than to add questions regarding the validity of the voting outcomes.  

History is replete with “stolen” elections juxtaposed against highly contentious outcomes that were accepted only because the population concluded the voting had been legitimately conducted and the ballots honestly counted.  Or in the case of continued confusion regarding the outcome, a decision is made by respected judiciary. 

Indeed, the margin of victory for “no” during the 1995 Quebec referendum was exceptionally close.  There were anecdotal accounts of violations regarding legitimate residency and intimations that voters were disqualified for partisan rationales, but sufficiently few so that there were no sustainable charges that the election had been stolen or the balloting compromised.

In contrast, the 2000 U.S. election outcome was undetermined for 35 days as efforts to determine the accuracy of the Florida continued a torturous route through the courts.  As the counting and recounting proceeded, epitomized by the meaning of “hanging chads,” I wrote that the election was being stolen—the outcome would be determined simply by which Party had the most effective lawyer-thieves.   

Elsewhere in the United States, persistent questions remain regarding the 1960 election, notably the vote in Illinois where Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago “machine” provided the core of a 9,000 vote margin.  And perhaps most amusing remains the 1948 Lyndon Johnson 87 vote victory in the Texas Democratic senate primary in 1948 in which a key ballot box revealed individuals “voting” in alphabetical order with the same handwriting.  

Thus it is disingenuous at best for opponents of “photo ID” voting identification to proclaim that there is no evidence of voter fraud.  And throughout the United States there has been increasing effort to assure individuals are qualified to vote.  As an election officer at a Virginia precinct, I know this November election will require photo identification to authenticate the name on the polling precinct registry.  During a special election in April, we asked every voter whether they had photo identification (to prepare them for the November requirement).  Not one, in almost a thousand voters, lacked appropriate identification.   

To pose some rhetorical questions:  Do you wait for your house to burn down before purchasing fire insurance?  Do you wait until your car stops before refueling?  Do you wait until frost-bitten before donning warm clothing?  Society functions on preventive action, and insuring ballot integrity is basic for democracy.

Which brings me to the contretemps regarding the prospective change in Canadian law to eliminate the procedure where one qualified voter swears (“vouchering”) that another individual is a qualified voter.  When voting authorities state that there were “irregularities” for vouchering averaging 25 percent, honest observers must admit there is a problem.   

This modification would still leave 39 forms of identification, alone or in combination, to certify an individual is qualified to vote.  Some are obvious:  driver’s license; provincial health card; passport; Canadian birth certificate.  Others are more obscure to include:  utility bill (with address); library card; residential lease; property tax assessment; student identification card; library card.  In short some combination of documents showing photo, name, and address.

It is really difficult to imagine individuals lacking some combination of such material.  

Hence, it becomes more likely that objections to eliminating “vouchering” are political rather than bureaucratic/technical.  Liberals/Democrats don’t trust Conservatives/Republicans (and vice versa).  Liberals are convinced that Tories seek to suppress their vote by making it more difficult to do so, but it is hard to conclude that a citizen with any motivation to vote cannot do so.

Equally, honestly, it is clear that individuals have manipulated voting systems in the past.  Being able to game the rules is the mark of an astute political operative.  In the United States, historically homeless individuals were moved from precinct to precinct to vote as directed—and compensated for their efforts with a few dollars and/or alcohol.  Twenty-years ago I asked a nonpartisan journalist why the Liberals so resisted voter identification security provisions.  The answer:  “The liberals vote the graveyards.”  Cynical?  Unproved? But still perhaps accurate.


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