Carole Milligan: Integrity of our elections
October 8, 2012
Questioning the integrity of our electoral process is all the rage among conservatives during the past four years, and the visit by Catherine Engelbrecht of True the Vote to the Steamboat Institute last week was no exception. True the Vote's ostensible mission is to improve the integrity of voter identification by aggressively cleaning up registration roles, questioning the matching of voter registrations and voter identification at the time of voting with a platoon of trained volunteers and promoting legislation that would require photo IDs when voting. Because Colorado is a swing state, Engelbrecht was here to garner support for her organization and recruit volunteers for the upcoming election. The genesis of True the Vote was in the witnessing of what Engelbrecht viewed as irregularities at the polls that she saw as a poll watcher in Harris County, Texas. While she denies any political party bias, the organization targets areas that have lower-income voters and voters who are younger, such as at colleges, where matching up identification and residence is more challenging. True the Vote does it aggressively by putting in objections with poll workers as they are trying to process people successfully to provide a smooth and free election process.
In a country where about 60 percent of eligible voters actually register and vote — and where there has been little well-documented voter fraud — it seems that making sure someone does not impersonate a dead person who still is on the voter registration rolls, or that the unit number on an apartment is described the same way by the utility company and the post office, just isn't the main issue.
Our country has a history of "having to win the vote," moving from men who owned property, to all white men, to black men and other minorities, and eventually to women, so that today the vote may not be denied to citizens, born or naturalized, age 18 or older, solely on the basis of "race, color, prior condition of servitude," sex, or failure to pay a poll tax or other tax. However, there still are some state restrictions regarding the need to register a number of days prior to voting or on whether felons may vote or on how ballots are counted. During this evolution, we have also had a history of voter intimidation at the polls, especially in the South.
If True the Vote targeted people with homes in two states who could conceivably double vote and didn't focus on things like six registered voters at one address (much more likely in a poor neighborhood), I would be more likely to think that it wasn't just one more group trying to disenfranchise voters who live in less stable life circumstances or who have more hindrances to obtain and pay for the requisite documents, and are less likely to be sympathetic to True the Vote's tea party roots.
Integrity also means assuring that any eligible voter who wishes to exercise his or her civic obligation to vote can do so without third-party interference. The objective of any organization that sincerely espouses integrity in voting should include efforts to make it possible for eligible voters to register and to exercise the right to vote, including through early voting and mail voting.
I think that we need to expand the voter rolls and encourage those who are eligible to express their opinions through their vote. Perhaps we should consider adopting national standards for voter identification and issue a low-cost national identification card, so that what is needed to register is the same wherever you live. A further improvement in the electronic age would be a means to record every vote received in real time, which helps to assure that no one can vote more than once.
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For the purposes of this 2012 election, be aware that groups like True the Vote may have people at your polling station, and that their objections will increase the workload of those working in the polling place as they try to resolve issues on the spot. Bring identification if you need it, don't allow yourself to be intimidated, and don't get frustrated and leave if you have to wait for issues that need to be resolved for others. Be sure to exercise your right to vote! If you vote by mail, and it is the first time, be sure to send in a copy of your identification, and always follow the directions carefully. If you have any questions about what you need, call the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office at 970-870-5556. They are here to help you exercise your right to vote.