An important issue was raised in Wednesday’s Forum (4-13-11) concerning the integrity of voting systems in the United States. The integrity and reliability of our elections has always revolved around two things: First, the authenticity of votes cast on the basis of one person, one vote, where public concern is that the voter be a genuine person living in that person’s polling precinct, whether present at polling date or submitting an absentee ballot, correctly identified in either case and easily verifiable. Second, the authenticity and reliability of vote countings as correctly attributed to category or candidate pro or con, through all phases of handling, calculation and report. Any breach of the first part or irregularity in the second endangers the validity of election.
The question raised Wednesday was, Would it not be advisable to issue everyone in our electorate a voter identification card? One can ask, Is voting not as important as driving a motor vehicle? For surely everyone who drives must carry the appropriate license or after certain infractions of the driving code risk loss of driving priviledge. This may be seen as raising question at to whether voting is a priviledge or a right bordering nearly on obligation. If a priviledge, it can be withheld for failure to comply with certain rules such as presenting a valid Voter ID card. If a right, the card could be, in some cases, an obstacle that impairs due process. With today’s police technology, a patrolman in his cruiser can to make a quick check on car and driver identity. Clearly, Voter ID cards would require a similar quick-reading technology at polling places. Mere visual inspection by polling officials might be no more definitive than current practice of signing a list and showing the usual means of identification.
Probably every honest citizen agrees, noncitizens such as unregistered aliens and illegal residents should not be allowed to vote. Speech is free but voting is restricted. Of our two concerns, it seems to me that the second may be more important than the first. For clearly, no matter whose ballots get properly recorded or not, the tallying is often, at least partly, less transparent than voting behavior itself. That is where our troubles crop up, too often unnoticed and maybe never discovered. Those “black box” voting machines with hackable software and those private offices of public officials where secret manipulations can defeat transparency everywhere else.
Let us suppose all local officials in all parts of the country are dutifully honest and conscientious. Then there would never be a deliberately wrongful issuance or denial of a Voter ID card to anyone, never any tampering with its invisible data. That would maximize the system’s reliability. Otherwise, we might be no more secure in our polling results than we are today. This much is certain. The Voter ID cards must (1) be issued by impeccable agencies already in existence, such as each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. That would likely involve the least, extra expense. (2) The cards must have so sophisticated a design as not to be altered or counterfeited. This means, it must have more than the current bar-code data entry, but an embedded microchip invisibly concealed in the substance of the card, a chip which can be read electronically at the polling site and its owner’s ID checked through all the other polling sites information to assure against multiple casting of votes by any specific person.
The more I consider the matter, less sure I’ve become that the old fashioned ways of local handling by experienced precinct workers who know most voters by sight or reputation and count old-style paper ballots by hand may not be the best. It may be slower and less efficient but surely cheaper and repeatedly verifiable for accuracy. What the devil is the big rush except to let the devils in? Elections should not be pressured to please the needs of news-hounding media moguls and mouthpieces, any more than big money should amount to political speech needing total freedom of expression. Make big enough noise, you can blow out the public’s eardrums so badly, it cannot distinguish a door-squeak from a symphony performance or a phony speech from genuine discourse.