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November 01, 2008


So would the federal government enforce all the myriad different state requirements and restrictions on voting?

Would we have been better off these last eight years with the Bush Justice Department (or even the Bush Commerce Department, which is in charge of the Census Bureau) at the helm of our nation's voting system?

Centralization of voter registration may or may not be a good idea, but it's pretty irrelevant to some more serious problems in our voting system, e.g. its control by partisan officials. Transferring control from partisan state and local officials to partisan federal officials may simply magnify the most serious problems.

Whether or not centralizing voter registration makes sense depends on whether we nationalize voting in other ways, too (which is another way of saying "what Scott de B." said).

I have a better idea: eliminate registration entirely, enact a federal right to vote in federal elections (perhaps via constitutional amendment), and eliminate the electoral college (though the National Popular Vote initiative). From the perspective of the right to vote, it makes little difference whether the state or the federal governments runs the system (so long as nonpartisan bureaucrats at either level are in charge). Given legitimate differences among the states regarding, e.g., party id, structure of primaries, and so forth, it may well make sense to continue to let the states run a system that has a more robust backbone of federal rights behind it.

Yes, i'm sure creating yet another database and national ID will clear things right up.

I think this is a wonderful idea. It addresses everyone's concerns in the best possible way, and makes it easier for people to vote in the process. It would also prevent these fights over voter lists, which, as Hasen says, undermine people's confidence in our electoral process.

I never thought that we'd be here, eight years after 2000, with a voting system that remains broken. Maybe if we get a President whose own legitimacy is not on the line, we will finally fix it.

Wow, Hilzoy: three days before the election, and you've promoting the Republican lie that the problem with US elections is that voter registration is broken?

Republicans have a problem with voter registration because they don't like it when too many people get registered to vote. High turnouts are bad for Republican candidates.

Challenging voter registration has, for decades, been the standard racist way of keeping the wrong kind of people from voting: but these days, as you really ought to know - it's your country! - Republicans keep the wrong kind of people from voting by more direct and more effective methods: they just fix the vote. Because of that, Obama is going to have to win by a landslide in order to get in. If Obama doesn't then move to fix the electoral system to prevent election-rigging, so will every other Democratic candidate forever - if they can. Even Obama may not be able to do it in 4 years time, assuming he can do it this time.

So your focus is now on following what the Republicans tell you is the "problem" - too many people are registering to vote?

This is what we do in Australia - electoral rolls are updated every time you move, and the entire electoral process is overseen by a non-partisan federal agency, called the Australian Electoral Commission. Of course, we also have compulsory voting, and nonvoters are fines.

Good idea and for that very reason very unlikely to succeed. As for specific state restrictions: This is about federal elections and so it should be federal responsibility and decision who is allowed to vote in it. Would it be legal, if e.g. Alaska banned red-haired women from voting because they are likely to be witches and witchcraft is going to be a felony again?

a) alas, we aren't going to have a president "whose legitimacy is not on the line."
obama is going to win in a landslide, and the familiar republican hate machine is going to crank right up and spew invented hysterical charges of illegitimacy. they've been off their game of late, but the insanity is only going to get worse.

b) your proposal assumes that there are honest republicans who want to fix the problem. good luck finding them. they'd rather have a system that they can use to generate faux outrage every four years.

maybe obama can push through a real fix. but it will have to happen without republican support, against a constant background of fox etc screaming about how 08 was stolen. is it really what he should do in the first 100 days?it's going to be all about priorities.

kid: maybe obama can push through a real fix. but it will have to happen without republican support, against a constant background of fox etc screaming about how 08 was stolen. is it really what he should do in the first 100 days?

If he doesn't, then the system continues where Republican candidates lose elections but rig the system to get in anyway, and Democratic candidates only win if they can overcome that rigging. There are important things Obama should be getting done: if he doesn't do this, he's got 4 years to do everything in a way that can't be undone by the Republican who comes next.

And given that the narrative that Hilzoy too is now promoting is that the problem is "voter registration fraud", if Obama attempts a real fix, he'll meet with opposition even from the people who are now saying maybe he should do something.


wehave the same system here in Finland, too. When you move, you're required to report your new address to the National Population Registry in 10 days' time. Before election, you are sent a reminder of your franchise by mail, telling you about the election day, the nature of the election and the address of your polling place.

About 99,5 % of the addresses in the national database are correct. This is because when you update your address there, also all public authorities, the banks, insurance companies and trade unions get it. It saves a lot of time for the individual.

Of course, a national population database comes in handy in several ways. It is an invaluable tool for statistics, school and health officials, law enforcement and taxation.

On the polling place, then, you must always present a government-issued photo ID. If you don't have one, the police will issue one for you without a fee.

jes, where is hilzoy promoting the "voter registration fraud" claim.

BTW, voter registration fraud is a legitimate issue, although to a very minor degree. The problem is that it is not the same as voter fraud which is not an issue at all. However, the idea that voter reigstration fraud is a major problem (although it isn't) is what allows for voter suppression tactics, mostly used by the republican side, to work.

I think hilzoy is more about perception of voter (registration) fraud as a serious problem. Doing the step of "we will simply register every citizen and do it by way of a procedure that is constitutionally mandatory*" would force the other side to either back off or having a wee bit of trouble hypocrisilling away. Not that it will actually prevent them from doing that but it can't be worse than it already is**.

*the census
**of course it will be painted as a sinister plot to take away the guns and implant a brain chip that will make everyone homosexual. Don't you know that Hitler send all Jews voter registration forms first ;-(

john miller: where is hilzoy promoting the "voter registration fraud" claim.

In this post, didn't you read it? I did.

Granted, if the US ran free and fair elections where every vote was counted and every registered voter could vote, the problem that many people entitled to vote don't register would be a big one. But in terms of fixing the problem of the US having a broken electoral system, the "problem" of registration fraud - which is what the Republicans promote, Hasen claims, and Hilzoy has just bought into - isn't even on the radar.

Fix the system so that everyone who wants to can vote on Election Day and everyone who casts a vote has their vote counted.

For Republicans serious about ballot integrity, this should be a winner as well. No more ACORN registration drives, and no more concerns about Democratic secretaries of state not aggressively matching voters enough to motor vehicle databases.

The premise here is wrong.

There are no Republicans who are serious about ballot integrity. Republicans are serious about making it more difficult for minorities to vote.

This is why they rail against ACORN. ACORN registers minorities to vote. Minorities tend to vote Democratic. Therefore, ACORN the organization is the boogeyman.

"ACORN" the word is a dog whistle. It is a verbal cue, like "MoveOn" or "terrorist" or "Michael Moore" or any Arabic-sounding name, that lets the crowds at campaign rallies know when it is time to boo.

It is also an easy, one-word "argument" for GOP talking heads on cable news talk shows when they wish to assert that an election is being/has been stolen, as they will do the moment the election is called for Barack Obama on the night of Tuesday, November 4, and as they will do every day for the next four years.

Republicans don't want to correct the problems in our election system. They want to game the election system to their benefit.

All that being said, I agree that the proposal is an excellent idea. I hope that President Obama and the Democratic Congress make it happen with or without the cooperation of the Republicans.

Jes: "you've promoting the Republican lie that the problem with US elections is that voter registration is broken?"

As others have asked: where? (I figured it was "in the post"; just not clear on which part.)

To be very, very clear: I think that the fact that people think that there's something fishy going on -- either reg. fraud or illicit purges -- is itself a problem, insofar as it undermines confidence in our election system. I also think that illicit purges (not just people's belief in them) are a problem, and a problem that can be fixed by having the government take affirmative measures to create better lists of voters, and register people at any possible point. This also gets around the problem of people thinking that there's voter fraud going on, but it does so by doing a lot more to register everyone.

Is there a problem with this?

UncommonSense: I actually think there are Republicans who are genuinely concerned about voter fraud. It's less clear to me that there are many such people in the GOP party apparatus, but among rank and file Republicans, don't you think there are any? (Iirc, Sebastian is, for instance.)

One point of this proposal is to make it possible to address this concern in a way that does not involve making it harder for anyone to vote. This would clearly separate concern for the integrity of the election process, which is a good thing in principle, from the Republicans' proposed remedies, which are (imho) a bad thing.

Of course, that's not the only point. Another huge one, as far as I'm concerned, is to minimize the possibility of partisan purges and the disenfranchisement of citizens.

As for specific state restrictions: This is about federal elections and so it should be federal responsibility and decision who is allowed to vote in it.

Yes, but the federal elections aren't conducted separately from the state elections. When I show up on Tuesday, I'm going to get one ballot that has all the relevant federal, state, county and local issues on it.


My language was imprecise. When I wrote that there are no Republicans who are serious about ballot integrity, I was referring to the GOP party apparatus. I should have been more specific.

But I also believe that rank-and-file Republicans who are concerned about voter fraud are laboring under delusions fed to them by party apparatchiks whose main interests are in suppressing Democratic turnout, and in arguing after the fact that Democratic victories are illegitimate.

I actually question the invocation of "voter fraud" as a serious electoral problem. Voter registration fraud has been a problem involving ACORN, but it is ACORN that has been the victim, not the electoral system. ACORN has acknowledged that it has been defrauded by canvassers who padded their registration rolls, and the group has made election officials aware those bogus registrations.

GOP strategists have exploited registration incidents to suggest that the integrity of elections themselves have been put at risk. But there is no evidence of any threat to election integrity to back up those claims.

As I wrote in the earlier comment, I would love to see a centralized, national approach to voter registration. It works with Social Security, and it could work with voting.

I am just uncomfortable ceding any ground to the Republicans on "voter fraud" as a rationale.

Yes, but the federal elections aren't conducted separately from the state elections. When I show up on Tuesday, I'm going to get one ballot that has all the relevant federal, state, county and local issues on it.

This is because states choose to do this because of cost savings. It just makes more sense to have all those elections determined on the same day so everyone goes to the polls once.

As for this idea, I think ending third party registrations is a good idea. I like the idea of centralizing voter rolls, and I do think in this case perception is important. My only request is that this system be kept separate from the social security one.

I think it would actually be a boon for both sides. If everyone is registered, then each side could gear towards getting out the vote itself and not just registering people. Registering people doesn't necessarily mean they will go vote, even if they are legal registrants with all information filled out correctly.

Interestingly, among Newt Gingrich's ten items on his new Contract On America last year was to "cut the budget of the U.S. Census Bureau".

That idea sunk like a stone, but unfortunately didn't take Gingrich to the bottom with it.

He must have known Hilzoy would turn to a constitutional mandate to ensure election integrity.

We can't have that.

One quibble: "Government employees would not have an incentive to pad voter registration lists with additional people in order to keep their jobs."


However, most of the people hired to plan for and conduct the Census in the field are short-term and temporary government employees who wander in every ten years from other careers to work for the Census.

It would be interesting to see how the random nature of this phenomenon would change into a partisan recruiting effort (from outside the Census Bureau) every ten years by the political parties to load up the Census ranks with partisan hacks, from management to the actual low-paid Census takers.

Full disclosure: I just started a job with the Census Bureau leasing and building out space for Census activities in 2010.

More full disclosure: I'm only a partisan hack on the Internets and at fully-libated dinner parties. My colleagues and I at Census never talk politics and in fact, can't wait until the bloody election is over, because it's been going on since I was in the sixth grade, it seems.

I don't think that the plan in hilzoy's post concedes ground so much as co-ops it.

Besides if an idea is good in its own right then I'm in favor of it. I don't car if other people support the idea for thhe wrong reasons.

The beauty of the idea is that it takes Republican party faux concerns and uses them to block Republican party rationalizations for voter surpression. I'm cool with that.

UncommonSense: ah. Then I think we largely agree.

As wonkie said, the plan is to coopt their concerns, or, in other words: to recognize that there is a way of doing a lot better than we have so far at registering voters and creating decent lists of them, but to do so in a way that does not result in people being disenfranchised. (The opposite, in fact.)

It's like what has always been my prime example of cooptation: Clinton and crime. Crime was always a Republican issue, in large part because it was often code for racial issues. Clinton recognized that caring about crime ought to be non-partisan, and proceeded to separate it from racist stuff and pursue it as a decent objective. This case is different, of course: like you, I do not think that actual voter fraud is a serious problem. But I do think that it's a serious problem that people think it is: I want to make it as hard as possible for people to think elections are being stolen, by the simple expedient of making them much harder to steal. And I also want to prevent anyone from being disenfranchised, by the simple expedient of making registration easy and transparent.

Universal voter ID number = the mark of the beast to a large portion of Americans, especially if Obama proposes it. Just saying it might come up a surprising amount of resistance.

I agree with those who think that once the Republicans got in charge of this federalized process fair elections would become a thing of the past.

And may I just say how much I love the intellectual atmosphere on this blog?

My host disagrees with something that I wrote, and rather than denounce me as a troll, or threaten to ban me from ever commenting again, she engages me in a conversation, which allows me to clarify my position. We discover then that we largely agree on the broader issue.

Try to imagine such a dialogue taking place in the right-wing blogosphere.


Obsidian Wings is an important voice in the progressive online community. Keep up the great work.

Isn't there a Constitutional issue here that must be addressed, hilzoy? Doesn't Article II explicitly place power to elect in the hands of the States?

I think there's quite a lot to this idea that's worth consideration, possibly worth even amendment of the Constitution. But I think it's possible that it looks easier to enact than it actually will be, because of the (as I see it) Constitutional difficulties.

Canada has a federal system like the US and federal elections are a FEDERAL government operation across the country.
We also have a low-tech voting machine system. Its a pencil and a ballot.

Votes get counted Canada-wide within hours of the polls closing (there are usually a few recounts in very tight races).

We've never had any "hanging chad" bullshit with our low-tech system and its pretty hard for the Diebold crowd to rig the machines.

Qmanal and Lurker-I really like the way y'all do it. Simple, straight forward, non-partisan. But...a bunch of "foreigners" are doing it. I can already hear the GOP screaming "Socialism" and telling us if we like it better over there, then GET OUT!!!

Hell, if we let better ideas have an effect in America, I'd be able the reach for a socket one number higher when I need a bigger one instead of spending 5 min going, "OK, 5/8 is to small, so 6/8 is one size bigger and that's 3/4. Um, gee, I hope my calculations are right. Maybe I just better get my entire set out and go through them one by one." Now what kinda fun would that be?

Crime was always a Republican issue, in large part because it was often code for racial issues. Clinton recognized that caring about crime ought to be non-partisan, and proceeded to separate it from racist stuff and pursue it as a decent objective.

As an analogy for the process of what you're talking about, I agree. As far as pursuing it as a "decent objective," if you just count all the ridiculous property forfeiture laws for drug offenses and the enormous increases in death-penalty-eligible federal crimes, not only was Clinton practically a Republican, the practical effect was arguably no less racist than it would have been under Bush Sr. or Dole.

Yes, but the federal elections aren't conducted separately from the state elections. When I show up on Tuesday, I'm going to get one ballot that has all the relevant federal, state, county and local issues on it.

Europe has no problems with that, it seems. In the EU, citizens of any EU country can vote on local issues where they are but only vote in national elections of the country they are citizens of. At the polling place they only get the ballot(s) for the local stuff but not the national while the registered citizens get them all.
Same goes btw with young people between 16 and 18 in some areas (local but no national vote). Having separate ballots for separate "levels" also makes the counting easier.

Universal voter ID number = the mark of the beast to a large portion of Americans...

I expect to live long enough to see national ID cards in the US, and I'm already in my 50s. From time to time I feel mildly outraged about it, but then I go through the number of places that I'm already in the government's computers, with a current address and a variety of other information: tax records, business filings, unemployment insurance, drivers license, my children's old public school records, voter registration, passport, etc.

Yeah, it might make it easier for the government to do improper things. But to be honest, a single card with good security would probably make my life easier (or at least my wallet thinner).

Here is another dirty trick the Obama campaign is orchestrating for Nov. 4. They are planning to bus in Obama supporters (who presumably have already early voted) into Republican leaning precincts. They have been coached to create long lines and look intimidating to real voters and then create further chaos inside the polling places by getting into long drawn out arguments with poll workers. The idea is to make the voting process intolerably long and unpleasant, causing many Republican voters to leave without voting.

Looks like my postal vote won't get there. As a dual national I registered in my last state of residence (CA) in August, but have not received a ballot. All I got was a another registration application form two weeks ago. My dad, also living overseas and attempting to register in Mississippi, has fared the same. US voting, like US tax, is complicated. Here in Australia we only vote on candidates, we use pencils and paper to vote, we can vote anywhere in our state, and it is an offense not to register to vote. >95% of the population votes on one day, yet I've waited in queues no longer than 15 minutes in big city, high density areas. By the way, in the USA, can people only vote in their local county? Seems like if people could avoid a wait of several hours, they would, so I'm curious why that is.

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