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April 12, 2007

Comments

Complete, total agreement, plus immense gratitude for laying it out so well, and for all the information.

Also: I think we actually posted at the exact same time. What are the odds?

it was bound to happen -- so many scandals, so little time. :)

I'm about to post the new NYT story on voter fraud, unless you want to.

all yours - it's time for the daily show, then trader joe's cranberry clusters, then bed

In New Mexico, they went a step further. There, “groups are given only 48 hours to submit the forms they collect to the state board of elections or face criminal charges.”

I'd imagine this law was put in place to punish the not-uncommon scenario where partisan groups conduct registration drives and throw out the applications belonging to the opposing party. You show up at the polls, thinking you're registered, but you're not.

On a related topic, there seems to be a recurring problem with some voter-registration drives generating large numbers of phony applications, because they hire homeless people and others who just don't give a damn. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the issue underlying the Ohio law requiring signature collectors to turn in their applications personally. But either way, I think this is an issue States are entitled to address.

"I'm about to post the new NYT story on voter fraud, unless you want to."

Probably the one I quoted at length from here?

Good post, publius.

Today one of friends on EbonyFriends.com asked me to have look at the article . I think your thought is very good and I will agree with you.

I like your comment spam, too.

Awesome post. A couple additions I'd make:

#1 I second Steve's point on the not-turning-in-opposition-party's-forms. However the late fines are absurd (late fee to cover the overtime for a clerk? Sure. Hundreds of bucks? NO way), and the penalties for taking too long even if the form is turned in before the registration deadline are clearly made to make life difficult for voter drives.

#3 Actually, 2000 is competetion for being as egregious, but that time, they got away with it. A pretty good overview can be found here.

#4 You can get a grande coffee for $2 at Starbucks? Cheaper than I thought.


Though I'm not really up on it, I think Black Box Voting has some valuable info. . .I realize I should probably refresh myself on how worthwhile it is before posting the link, but it's 3 AM and I have homework left.

Here in Rhode Island, the state GOP got quite a shellacking in the last election: lost Lincoln Chafee's senate seat (their last federal elected official), failed to win any new statewide offices, lost one or two seats in the General Assembly.

Their response? Introduce a voter ID bill in the General Assembly.

The Rhode Island GOP claims they're not a bunch of wild-eyed extremists like the national party, but they seem happy to parrot the national party's "voter fraud" rhetoric and voter suppression tactics.

I'd imagine this law was put in place to punish the not-uncommon scenario where partisan groups conduct registration drives and throw out the applications belonging to the opposing party. You show up at the polls, thinking you're registered, but you're not.

You mean like in this story, where a Republican group was throwing out registration forms filled out by Democrats?

Yeah, I can totally see how Republican efforts at voter fraud would logicaly lead to legislation aimed to suppress voter registration.

Btw, Steve, since this is, as you say, a "not-uncommon scenario", I'm sure you can provide a link to a story where a Democratic group was systematically throwing out Republicans' registration forms. Oh, and I'm going to have to insist that you link to a real news story from a real news outfit, like I did, and not some post from RedState or Free Republic. Since it's a not-uncommon scenario, you won't have any trouble finding one. Right, Steve?

"Today one of friends on EbonyFriends.com asked me to have look at the article . I think your thought is very good and I will agree with you."

Lamest spam ever?

"In Florida, for instance, the legislature imposed the following fines on voter registration groups: (1) “$250 for each application submitted . . . more than ten days after the form was collected”; (2) “$500 for each application . . . submitted after the [registration] deadline”; (3) “$5,000 for each application collected but not submitted to election officials.” These potential penalties obviously make people think twice about initiating, or participating in, voter registration efforts."

No question this type of law can -- and has -- been used to suppress the turnout of those(largely Democratic) who have not previously registered to vote. But there is a second side to this type of law: if the penalties were not strict, certain people (initials KR, perhaps) might get the bright idea of "registering" unregistered voters and then dumping the new registrations in the trash. That also works to suppress the vote, as people would think they had registered, only to be turned away at the polls.
And of course, if they registered twice in an effort to make sure they could vote, then they can be prosecuted for voter fraud.


Btw, Steve, since this is, as you say, a "not-uncommon scenario", I'm sure you can provide a link to a story where a Democratic group was systematically throwing out Republicans' registration forms.

You want me to build a case against my own team? I have no problem stipulating that, on the whole, Republicans are the dirty-tricks masters when it comes to voting shenanigans. But I'm not partisan enough to believe that there are NO individual Democrats out there engaging in any given stunt. Sometimes people do bad things.

I'd like to point out that a national registration system (aka "national ID card") would eliminate every one of the problems cited above. Once registered, a person is registered for life, can't be incorrectly purged from the voter rolls, and has an ID card that works on presentation. Wouldn't life be so much easier if we enacted this? Wouldn't there be fewer injustices?

Don't these voter ID laws more or less constitute an unconstitutional poll tax? I would imagine that in states like Georgia there'd also be Voting Rights Act issues, not that I'd expect the Bush Justice Department to do anything about it.

"Wouldn't life be so much easier if we enacted this? Wouldn't there be fewer injustices?"

Especially once everyone is forbidden to ever move again, and given that problems with databases are sure to be trivial. I'm sure glad we have a government database for who's on the "no-fly" list: it's made for ever so fewer injustices!

Trust your government! It's the best way to be safe!

Keep in mind that there will be no move whatsoever to add data to the database: credit card info, mortgages, bank records, supermarket card holders, criminal records, terrorism watch lists, prison records, surveillance files, and so on. There will be no impulse whatsoever for various government departments to all want access to the records, to use for their various purposes, such as finding terrorists, unearthing student loan defaulters, uncovering illegal immigrants, discovering who's driving without a license, making sure you've paid your taxes, and on and on.

There will certainly be only a trivial amount of errors, and any confusion between different people will be quickly and painlessly correctable!

Then, of course, there will be no move to make sure that, since we have national IDs, that they include biometric data. Naturally. And a chip to record it on.

But the chip will be completely secure! Technology guarantees it! And the convenience will be astonishing.

Oh, it's a wonderful, wonderful idea. What could go wrong?

You want me to build a case against my own team? I have no problem stipulating that, on the whole, Republicans are the dirty-tricks masters when it comes to voting shenanigans.

The first step in a long journey.

Now if only Sebastian will chime in and acknowledge this truth.

True reform concerning voting problems is impossible so long as Republicans cling to myths about the problem. Presently, the "problem" serve more as cover for the dirty-trick masters than any actual problem.

I'd like to point out that a national registration system (aka "national ID card") would eliminate every one of the problems cited above.

And create a host of other issues, which is why this idea has been a non-starter for at least four decades. In particular, it used to be conservatives who were most concerned with the implications of this type of mandated ID system.

Gary,

Austria is an example where vote registration is a non-issue as the government already knows who lives where. That doesn't conform to the US attitude Re governing, but it sure makes the election procedure a *lot* easier.

In Vienna, the city administration communicates quite thoroughly who is allowed to vote: In each house of flats a note is on display how many people are on the roll for each flat. And every voter gets sent a card giving his polling place and his roll number to speed up the voting process.

Whenever you move, you are already legally obliged to notify the state, which automatically changes the voter registration for you.

Different countries, different philosophies.

Mr. Farber sarcastically dismisses the idea of a national voter registration, arguing that it would contain errors and be misused. Mr dmbeaster echoes Mr. Farber. There are two powerful counterarguments against these fears:

1. Whether you like it or not, that data already exists in computers somewhere. We're not talking about adding new data, we're talking about consolidating it under defined law with defined procedures for acquiring and accessing it. Right now the voter registration data is maintained on county computers with little, if ANY, security. In a national database, it could be secured. Right now, there are no laws controlling access to the voter registration database; anybody at the county courthouse can mosey on over to the computer during lunch break and look up anybody's data. If they're caught in the act, they don't go to jail, because there are no laws governing that. And this is the system you prefer!?!?!

Nor are there uniform laws governing how that data is used at present. The county clerk can hand it over to the Republican county chairman, and it could be perfectly legal -- depends on what state you're in. This is the situation you prefer!?!??

2. There are no uniform laws or even uniform procedures for correcting errors in voter registration data. If the county puts you down as a felon ineligible to vote, you might be able to change that -- but the standards of proof required, the presumptions made in disputes, the fees charged to make the change, and the time required to effect it, are all variable and in many cases undefined. With a national database we could have uniform standards for error correction. But you prefer the present chaotic and grossly unfair situation?!?!?!

"In a national database, it could be secured."

Of course it could; when millions of people of necessity have input rights, and tens of millions, or more, can access information from it, it would surely be secure. Especially when databases are combined! That really limits errors. If we combine databases with variant errors, that won't multiply the errors from one database into the others, but instead the errors will magically be fixed!

Because that's how it's worked so far, and even if it didn't, we can do better next time!

Why, a month doesn't pass without a news story on how a government database didn't have a few million files stolen, or lost. And it's easy to get both private companies, and the government, to fix database errors, as everyone who has ever tried knows! It's a cinch.

Multiplying errors in a database that will determine if you should be arrested, can fly, might be a terrorist, have credit problems, and so on: nothing to worry about!

What could go wrong? National databases are fantastic, particularly for their security.

OT, but voting-related, from DC political commentator Mark Plotkin:

I had a conversation with Mayor Fenty today which I want to report which did not get much play. The Mayor after meeting with Josh Bolton [Bolten] the President's Chief of Staff said last week that Bolton told him that he is never to raise the subject of DC voting rights with the President in any future conversation. That's arrogance for you.

If you're in or near DC, join the Voting Rights March on Monday.

Mr. Farber, your reliance on sarcasm belies an insecurity with logic; your arguments will stand up better if not posed in hyperbolic format.

Yep, there have been lots of security problems with data systems. Your solution is to simply let things remain as they are, with lousy security, no uniform laws governing access, and no uniform procedures for correcting errors. I don't call that a solution -- I call it a problem.

The solution is to fix the problems, not impotently complain about them. We won't improve data security by leaving the data in unsecure county computers. We won't improve error correction by leaving it in the hands of computer-illiterate county employees.

I'm proposing a constructive solution to a serious problem -- and all you can offer in response is sarcasm?

I'm proposing a constructive solution to a serious problem -- and all you can offer in response is sarcasm?

You get sarcasm because you don't actually offer any answer to the serious problems he poses - problems that have been obvious with national government identification registration ever since the concept was first proposed, which is why it never has been - other than "we can fix the problems."

Please explain how a system that, as Gary said, by necessity would have millions of people with access to it would be "secure" by any standard that isn't laughable, then maybe you'll get less snark.

This may be arrogant of me for a change but in this case I think Gary is the realist here as far as the US are concerned. While I do have trust in the the security of state&federal databases over here (and the courts have just stopped attempts to even marginal pooling of different ones again) I have no trust at all that something like it could be established in the US in the forseeable future. I simply consider the mentality of our different countries to be too different. Paradoxically in the US many see the state as per se untrustworthy but the controls are effectively (though maybe not theoretically) weak. Over here the government is seen as basically trustworthy/benevolent but the net of regulations and controls is extremly dense, as if noone could be trusted at all.

Mr. chdb, you overlook the essence of my argument, which is comparative rather than absolute. Yes, in absolute terms, no national system will ever be truly secure. But county systems are even worse by any measure. I am not proposing to create an entirely new database of information that doesn't exist anywhere else. I am proposing to take the current clumsy, inefficient, insecure, hodgepodge of voter registration and put in one place where we can implement stronger (note the 'er') security and more reliable error correction (note the 'more').

We have now had four comments that such a system will not be secure. We already know that. The question is, how can be improve the situation? Can anyone here offer an argument that a national database would be LESS secure than our current mishmash?

"Can anyone here offer an argument that a national database would be LESS secure than our current mishmash?"

When people provide links, you ignore them.

Whoops, looking back, I see one of my links was bad; it was supposed to be this, not a link to Charlie's blog in general. Apologies.

"When people provide links, you ignore them."

Mr. Farber, I don't know what you're talking about. I have pursued many of the links presented. In some cases, I found them useful; in others, I did not. But in any case, my question remains: can you offer an argument that a national database would be less secure than county databases? Again, I emphasize the relative aspect of the question.

Wow. I catch a whiff of "Computers are MAGIC!" thinking here.

Here's a hint: Computers are dumb. Users are even worse. Computers + Users = mistakes. Computers + Users + Lack of Oversight = Horrible, Horrible Mess.

It's quite possible to secure a database. Database security and data reliability are, of course, two different things. Data accuracy is yet a third.

"But in any case, my question remains: can you offer an argument that a national database would be less secure than county databases?"

Repetition is rarely useful, but since you ignored my last three links, and "don't know what [I'm] talking about," I shall theorize that your browser visually makes links unclear, and so I'll try to make them more clear.

One.

Two.

Three.

Each of those words is a separate link; each presents such arguments. For starters.

There are vast public policy problems with large-call databases on citizens, both commercial and private, and in governmental hands.

The larger and more detailed the database, the more problematic it is, for a variety of reasons, including the increased number of people affected by errors, and the greater uses that are encouraged as size grows.

Necessarily, the smaller that databases are, and the more localized that they are, the better off we all are.

The worst possible problems come when disparate databases are combined, thus vastly multiplying the errors, and their effects.

The very very worst possible outcome would be one huge governmental database. The links I provided explain why.

HTH. HAND.

"large-call databases"

Should have been "large-scale databases." Sorry about that.

Yes, Mr. Farber, I did read the links you presented; I simply didn't perceive any relevance in them. The first two links are to articles describing the many flaws in the UK National Identity Card System. He makes no comparison whatever to smaller systems. Mr. Schneier's article makes exactly the same point: that large national databases used for general-purpose ID have many serious flaws. Again, he does not address county systems.

So not one of your links bothers to address the point I made: that a national voter registration system could easily be made more secure than the current hodgepodge of local systems. That's why I didn't bother responding to them individually; I thought it would be obvious to you that they didn't apply to the point I was making. Just to be clear, let me repeat that point:

I claim that a national system of voter registration information would be more secure than the current voter registration data scattered all over the place. In order to present arguments against my claim, you need to make COMPARATIVE arguments that reference the strengths and weaknesses of national systems AS COMPARED TO county level systems. You have made no attempt to do so.

Two other points: you do make the good point that large databases are intrinsically more fragile than small databases. However, at this point I have to clarify my position. I have had in mind throughout this discussion a national voter registration database, not a full-fledged national identification database -- but I have also kept in mind the likelihood that, with time, a national voter registration database would grow into a national identification database. The "with time" aspect reflects the years -- decades, more likely -- that it would take to hammer out the details to make it workable. If you re-read my posts on the subject, you'll see that the emphasis is always on voter registration information, but I also got sloppy in a few places and wasn't so specific. In any case, the topic issue here is solving voter registration problems, and that has been the context in which I have been thinking.

The differences between a national voter registration database and a national identification database are huge. The amount of data maintained in the former case is small, and readily fits an easily-defined format. Therefore, the many problems cited in your references to very large databases are not anywhere near as relevant to the issue at hand.

The differences between a national voter registration database and a national identification database are huge.

elections and voting are the business of the states, not of the federal govt..

"So not one of your links bothers to address the point I made: that a national voter registration system could easily be made more secure than the current hodgepodge of local systems. That's why I didn't bother responding to them individually; I thought it would be obvious to you that they didn't apply to the point I was making."

In the real world, there is a massive press for a national ID card, to serve a variety of purposes, including proving one's citizenship for employment and other purposes (the role the Social Security card fell into, despite that being specifically illegal, and which the proponents of swore up and down could never take place, that the SS # could and never would be used for any other identification purposes than with the Social Security bureau), fighting terrorism, as a driver's license, and elsewise.

Any proposal requiring a national voter ID necessarily is making a proposal that would be swept into that card; we're not going to have two national ID cards, one for voting, and one for all other purposes.

Necessarily, the cards are pointless without the centralized database.

In the real world, the push to consolidate such databases in governmental hands is massive and ongoing. I've blogged more than a little about this in recent years.

So, in reality, rather than in the ideal schemes in your head, in vacuo, the topics are the same, and are not just relevant, but are essential.

If you wish to ignore them, you're discussing a fantasy ideal in your head, rather than the actual issues.

Yes, Mr. Farber, I did read the links you presented; I simply didn't perceive any relevance in them.

I would think a tad more imaginatively. I think there's quite a bit of relevancy.

Mr. Farber, you equate a national voter registration card with a national identification card, saying that politically they are indistinguishable. This is a slippery slope argument. You are asserting that, if we accept A, then we'll inevitably end up with B.

Now, I'd first like to point out that the slippery slope argument implicitly concedes the merit of A. That is, it relies on the injury created by B and attributes no injury to A. So you are (unintentionally, I'm sure) implying that a national voter registration system would be harmless.

But now to address the flaw in slippery slope arguments: such arguments rely on the assumption that the second result is an inevitable consequence of the first. To make a slippery slope argument work, you have to demonstrate inevitability. You present the argument that there are many people in favor of a national identification card. I recall a reference to a poll showing that the majority of Americans are opposed to a national identity card -- if you seriously doubt that, I can try to dig up the link. That poll certainly argues the reverse of your claim, and thereby eliminates the inevitability necessary to your arguement.

elections and voting are the business of the states, not of the federal govt.
That may be (though the Voting Rights Act indicates things may be more complicated), but don't you think that's one of the things that leads to the election problems we have?

It makes a lot more sense to me for the federal government to be involved in elections, which after all include the elections for federal officials, than for it be involved in setting the drinking age or speed limits or fighting marijuana.

but don't you think that's one of the things that leads to the election problems we have?

oh i'm not defending it, i'm just sayin' that's the way it is. if you want the Feds to get into the business of monitoring voting, there's probably gonna need to be some Constitutional amending first.

Cleek, did it require a constitutional amendment for the things I mentioned in my comment? The federal government can certainly bribe or blackmail the states (or creatively interpret the Constitution) if an issue is deemed important enough.

Mr. cleek is correct in observing that voting is legally the responsibility of the states. But the Feds could intervene under the Equal Protection clause. In fact, that was the basis on which the infamous Gore v. Bush case was decided.

this federal voter database idea implies (to me, anyway) that the FedGov is going to be in control of deciding who gets to vote and who doesn't. well, how does that square with the fact that different states have different rules for who can vote and who can't (ex. felons) ? are we expecting the FedGov to update its list according to laws it doesn't write or enforce ?

yes, the FedGov gets involved with elections, i'm just not sure this kind of involvement would fly with the laws as they are.

of course, i'm not a lawyer, so i won't be surprised if someone who is knocks my theory to the ground.

"if you want the Feds to get into the business of monitoring voting, there's probably gonna need to be some Constitutional amending first."

The Justice Department has monitored voting since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and possibly to some degree before that since the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but I don't recall how significant that is, and it's not important enough to look up just now).

HAVA did a bunch in 2002.

Discussion here at this level of knowledge is pretty pointless. There's no shortage of expert organizations and advice to look to on what's proposed, and been done recently, in election reform. There's already a role for the Federal government in national elections. None of this has required any constitutional changes. Nor resort to "the Equal Protection clause" (who do you propose has standing, and to bring what suit where against whom over what?).

Mr. Farber, standing under Equal Protection is defined by a number of criteria laid down over the years in case law. The jurisdictional specifications are well established based on the residence of the plaintiff and the location at which the election took place. If the existing specifications don't yield a clear result, then it bounces to the DC court.

Look up Gore v Bush to see how it's done.

Dammit, it's "Bush v Gore", not "Gore v Bush". Me and my aging memory. Sorry.

The Justice Department has monitored voting since the Voting Rights Act of 1965...

ok, wrong word. i meant "monitoring" in a more hands-on way - you know, like the way you're proposing. i see a big difference between monitoring elections to guarantee civil rights and telling individuals if they can and can't vote in state elections.

Thanks, Erasmussimo, for such clarity in responding to "who do you propose has standing, and to bring what suit where against whom over what?"

Everyone now understands the answer to that.

Now, I'd first like to point out that the slippery slope argument implicitly concedes the merit of A. That is, it relies on the injury created by B and attributes no injury to A. So you are (unintentionally, I'm sure) implying that a national voter registration system would be harmless.

Not necessarily. A may not necessarily be harmless; the tradeoffs may outweigh the harm. However, the harm in A+B could certainly overweigh the good. This would in no way say that A is harmless.

But now to address the flaw in slippery slope arguments: such arguments rely on the assumption that the second result is an inevitable consequence of the first. To make a slippery slope argument work, you have to demonstrate inevitability.

Given what's happened to, say, social security numbers, I'm not certain you'd have to work very hard. Unintended condequences abound.

Have to point out to the national database proponents that if we'd already had one, it would now most likely be administered by the DOJ under the direction of our Attorney General.

Just saying.

It would be nice if somebody in the MSM would make the simple observation that Democrats are always working toward being more inclusive of voters while Republicans do everything they can to suppress the vote.

Okay Erasmussimo, here's a couple very specific security complaints with regard to county vs. national databases. The advantage of increased physical security with a national DB is cancelled by the enormous numbers of users neccesary to operate such a beast. A single security breach with a national database could potentially put every citizen's data at risk, whereas a security breach on a county level obviously would not. The damage potential of a security breach with a national database is far greater, and it's attractiveness as a target is equally increased.

These are the issues currently under debate.

Maybe this post is better here than in the thread above:

A lot could be done by making federal elections a truly federal thing. No special rules for individual states like different standards of eligibility etc.
Personally I am for a simple "(alive and adult) US citizens have the right to vote in US federal elections. This right may not be abridged for any reason.". Yes, that would include the Boston Strangler and Bin Laden (should he somehow achieve US citizenship). The practice of voter purges is in my view a far larger problem than the voting of criminals (that some unlike me see as an abomination).

I'm agreeing with Hartmut, both in the simple voting rights and in the national database issue. Though I also dislike our own databases; too many possibilities for misuse and not enough respect for privacy.

In the Netherlands everybody can vote, criminals too. Having your voting rights removed is an additional punishment and very rare.

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