Thursday, November 1, 2012
Committing voter fraud is easy — way too easy
If you could vote twice, would you?
Two years ago, I committed voter fraud. It was completely unintentional, but despite my best efforts my vote was counted as someone else’s, and this was all because of the way in which the system in Massachusetts is set up.
Like many college students, I mailed in my absentee ballot in 2010. What made my case different was that in Massachusetts, you don’t have to be a registered voter to vote absentee. So long as you are eligible to be a registered voter and are a resident of Massachusetts but absent from the state, overseas, or in jail for anything but a felony conviction, you can vote absentee in Massachusetts.
I thought this was strange, but it allowed me to vote so I didn’t mind much. I filled out the application, with my full name, my address, date of birth, and everything else. My social security number wasn’t needed. I got my ballot in the mail a few weeks later, voted, and sent it back.
I didn’t think anything of it again until I got a call from my father on election day, and he told me that my absentee vote had been counted as his vote. Because we had the same first and last name, same address, and he was registered and I was not — whoever counted the votes counted my vote as his. To do this, our middle names would have had to be ignored, as well as our birth dates.
Further, my father was able to talk his way into getting another ballot without much difficulty. It would have been a fairly easy way to vote twice. The entire system was broken. I called the town clerk later that day to try to clear it up, and it was already cleared up by that point, but nothing made me more a proponent of protections against fraud than my own experience with accidentally committing it.
If I was able to do it purely by following the system and its rules, how easy would it be for someone else to vote twice? Why aren’t there any protections against this? What is stopping someone from intentionally sending in a ballot in someone else’s name? If a social security number isn’t required, wouldn’t it be very easy for someone who knows a person’s full name, birthday, and address to commit election fraud?
There is so much about this situation that worries me for the integrity of our elections, not just in Massachusetts but nationwide. A voter ID law wouldn’t have solved this problem, but requiring a social security number in the application might have. Requiring me to be a registered voter in order to vote absentee would have solved it as well. I’m not worried about this happening again this year because I voted in person and am now a registered voter. But just because it won’t happen with me again doesn’t mean it won’t with someone else. Massachusetts doesn’t have many close races, but I’m sure there are other states that have a similar situation and do have close races.
I understand totally the argument that any restrictions on voting, including efforts at stopping voter fraud, inherently help the Republicans because of the demographic breakdown of the two parties. But a main part of this argument is that voter fraud is so infrequent and rare that disenfranchising any number of people to combat it would be unnecessary and an overreaction. However, requiring voters to be registered in order to vote absentee and requiring social security numbers wouldn’t disenfranchise anyone who wasn’t already disenfranchised by the registration requirement to vote in person.
We cannot trust the outcome of close races so long as committing fraud is this easy, and going into a presidential race as close as this one with that in mind should not be comforting.
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