Securing the Integrity of American Elections: The Need for Change

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

It is unfortunately true that in the great democracy in which we live, voter fraud has had a long and studied role in our elections. Maintaining the security of our voter registration and voting process, while at the same time protecting the voting rights of individuals and guaranteeing their access to the polls, must be our foremost objective. Unlike what certain advocates in the civil rights community believe, these goals are not mutually exclusive. Every vote that is stolen through fraud disenfranchises a voter who has cast a legitimate ballot in the same way that an individual who is eligible to vote is disenfranchised when he is kept out of a poll or is somehow otherwise prevented from casting a ballot. In other words, violations of criminal election crimes statutes are just as important as violations of federal voting rights statutes and both cause equal damage to our democracy.

Most importantly, putting security measures in place-such as requiring identification when voting-does not disenfranchise voters and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. In fact, the most recent election in 2004, with its record turnout and increases in voter registration, shows that such identification requirements have no effect on turnout at all. The other problems encountered in this and prior elections, particularly the large number of fraudulent voter registration forms turned in to election officials by some third-party organizations engaged in voter registration drives, show the need to make further changes in federal and state law that will safeguard our elections and our right to vote.1

The stealing of elections happens from the local level, such as in the mayor's race in Miami in 1997, to congressional races, such as Lyndon B. Johnson's famed theft of his 1948 U.S. Senate Democratic primary with Ballot Box 13, to the 1960 presidential race with Mayor Daley's long-rumored stuffing of ballots in Chicago on behalf of John Kennedy. Information about some of the better known incidents is documented by Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson in "Dirty Little secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics"2 and by John Fund in "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy."3 In 1984, a special federal grand jury in the Northern District of Illinois investigated the 1982 general election in Illinois and concluded that 100,000 fraudulent votes had been cast.4 Its public report provides a textbook guide to how voter fraud is committed. It details false registration, fraudulent use of absentee ballots, vote buying, and altering of the vote count. In that case alone, fifty-eight precinct captains, election judges, poll watchers, and political party workers were convicted in the largest vote fraud case ever prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice.' The grand jury concluded "that similar fraudulent activities" had occurred prior to 1982.6

Most cases of voter fraud are prosecuted by state authorities, but anyone interested in looking at the scope of the problem, which most liberal advocacy groups wrongly insist is almost nonexistent and exaggerated,' need only look at the many cases prosecuted under the federal statutes prohibiting various election crimes such as vote buying and providing false information to register and vote, which are violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(c). There are numerous reported cases listed after these statutes in an annotated volume of the United States Code.8 While it may be true that most elections are conducted without being affected by voter fraud, the many past (and ongoing) prosecutions make it clear that voter fraud is a continuing problem.

The fastest and most uniform way of making needed changes in election administration would be to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA").9 HAVA was signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2002, and was the first statute passed by Congress affecting federal elections since the passage of the National Voter Registration Act in 1993 ("NVRA"). …