August 28, 2005

My vote was cancelled out by a baseball diamond

By: David Freddoso

Last Wednesday, my roommate and I watched from the nosebleeds as the hapless Nationals beat up on his even more hapless Reds. Some time around the fifth inning, before the Nats built up a four-run lead and locked up the game, I noticed a small group of white, suburban prep-school kids — certainly not even 18 years old, let alone 21 — drinking in a very ostentatious manner from plastic beer bottles about five rows up.

I was curious about how these children had managed to do this — I was never so clever at that age. My question was answered when I saw a very scantily dressed blonde girl rummage through her purse in the Upper Deck ring and present to an unscrupulous vendor what looked like a flexible, plastic high-school identification card, or maybe a library card. After fumbling and holding her purse just where the beer man had a good excuse to eye her inappropriately, she carried three or four cold ones up the aisle to her friends. She may have even convinced the seller that it was her seventeenth birthday, because I think she managed to get a few dollars knocked off the price.

(You know who you are, RFK beer man #128 in section 502.)

Whatever one may think about our national drinking policy, this sort of thing is obviously not supposed to happen. Those of us who lack the feminine charm needed to entice a lonely vendor are regularly subjected to identification checks when entering a bar, buying alcohol, cigarettes or firearms, and when renting cars, movies, canoes, bicycles, or just about anything else.

So why should the franchise, our sacred right to a valid vote on our local, state, and federal offices, be less protected than such purchases? Some state lawmakers asked themselves the same question in Georgia, prompting them to pass a bill requiring one of six forms of photo identification at the polling place. The measure has brought howls of protest from the Left, with the contention that this will somehow disenfranchise ethnic minorities — none of whom, apparently, ever drive, smoke cigarettes, rent movies, or buy liquor.

Given that Mexico has required all voters to present a photo ID in its elections since at least 1994, such claims appear rather disingenuous. Some complain that the new Georgia law disallows other proofs of residence, such as utility bills. I would point out in reply that more than a year after buying my apartment in Virginia, I still receive mail on a daily basis addressed to about ten different people with Hispanic surnames. I have no idea whether these folks are real people, or whether they ever lived in my condo, or whether they plan to show up and vote in my precinct in the state elections this November.

And besides, if you want to see someone laugh, try presenting a utility bill to the bouncer at “Julito” in Hyattsville on a Saturday night.

Last week, the Justice Department finally approved the Georgia law (a necessary step since Georgia is a Voting Rights Act state), but the final hurdle could be a lawsuit to block enforcement. It would be rather disappointing to see such a lawsuit filed, as the only reason to do so is to promote “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” voting for anyone who can memorize the name and address of an alleged voter.

Voter fraud is real. A less effective but common form is bribery. In Milwaukee in 2000, a worker at a homeless shelter had to ask Democratic campaigners to leave on Election Day after they offered cigarettes to homeless people in exchange for their votes. This June, five Democratic Party officials in East St. Louis, Ill. were convicted in a federal trial of paying voters up to $10 each to vote for Democratic candidates during the Nov. 2 general election (one still faces charges of trying to murder a government witness in the case). Another story floating around from last year’s South Dakota volunteers relates that an inebriated gentleman stepped out of a voting booth on an Indian reservation and declared loudly, in the presence of all the election officials, “Okay, I voted for Daschle. Where’s my ten bucks?”

Of course, one can never know if bribes will work, or how the bribed will vote, and so the more effective form of fraud is to vote under the names of several inactive (sometimes deceased or non-existent) but registered voters. It’s the stuff of legend, probably true, that in 1960, entire Chicago cemeteries voted — some twice — in order to put John F. Kennedy into the White House.

But consider also that in May, federal and state investigators found that the dead had been voting again in Milwaukee. It’s also entirely possible that someone had plans to vote on behalf of the fake voters registered by a Cleveland man accused of forging registrations in exchange for crack.

In Milwaukee (again), the Journal-Sentinel reported in January that 1,242 voters in the last election had registered themselves from more than 1,100 bogus addresses, including vacant lots and baseball diamonds. And even then, the number of votes cast in the city was 4,609 greater than the number of people who signed their names to the rolls at their polling places. Someone cast those votes, but we will never know who it was.

Such fraud is fairly simple. All it takes is a print-out of the identity of several dead or inactive registered voters, a bus, and a group of people with good memories. Without a photo ID requirement, fraudulent voters can be bussed from precinct to precinct, briefed between each stop about their new identity (they may need to memorize their new address, in case the poll workers ask), and allowed to vote multiple times. With today’s computer technology, party poll workers can even make sure no one tries to vote on behalf of someone who actually showed up and voted already.

A lawyer friend who volunteered for last year’s election briefly became the target of a federal lawsuit when he challenged several students’ right to vote because they had been bussed in from a school in a neighboring state. He had overheard one of them ask the leader of the group of itinerant voters: “Wait, who am I again?” He was only partially successful in his challenge, but at least the suit was later dropped, for obvious reasons.

Despite Milwaukee’s troubles, Gov. Jim Doyle (D) has now twice vetoed bills to require identification for voting. He has good reason, the dead may have as better chance of rising than he does in next year’s election. In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed such a law this year and attempted an end-around the legal issues by offering photo IDs to the indigent at five bucks a pop. Now that the Justice Department has approved Georgia’s law, there is some hope that other states like Florida and Ohio will wise up and adopt such a requirement as well.

But if the proponents of don’t-ask-don’t-tell voting prevail, and we choose to keep letting unknown voters cast ballots on behalf of others, there’s no reason we can’t at least be fair and eliminate the ID requirement for purchasing alcohol as well. I know a few teen-aged baseball fans who would benefit immediately.

David Freddoso, a native of Indiana, is a political reporter for Evans and Novak Inside Report.