By Kent Willis, Executive DirectorOn Election Day, the miscues by voting officials in Virginia were in plentiful supply. On the same day, it is doubtful that a single Virginia resident committed voter fraud. Yet in the 2012 General Assembly, legislators will pay little attention to the former and lots of attention to the latter.
To start, a little background on the miscues at the polls on Tuesday. While decennial redistricting always requires lots of changes in polling places and election district boundaries, there is absolutely no excuse for the major glitches that occurred.
Here are just a few from preliminary news reports, probably only the tip of the iceberg. Many Montgomery County voters got the wrong ballot. Some Norfolk precincts initially double counted votes, reporting nearly twice as many as actually were cast. Nearly a thousand voters in Henrico County were assigned to the wrong precinct, causing many of them to be rejected when they showed up at the polls or to cast a provisional ballot. Fairfax County realized just before Election Day that as many as 2,000 voters may have been assigned to the wrong precinct.
Finger pointing is everywhere -- computer error, too many changes to handle, poorly instructed poll workers. But this is voting, the essence of our democracy, and we should put whatever resources are necessary into making it happen properly.
While election officials must deal with large numbers of voters and multiple changes to addresses and precincts, thousands of far more complicated essential government activities take place around us every single day. If the rest of government operated like our voting system did on Tuesday, we’d be in a state of collapse.
But legislators in Virginia will probably not pay much attention to the systemic incompetence and structural inadequacies that plague our ability to vote. Instead, they will focus their attention on fixing a non-existent problem: individual voter fraud.
Every study conducted in recent years shows that, for obvious reasons, individual voter fraud is a myth. For one, it’s really difficult to register twice or impersonate someone else at the polls. For another, the reward is small and the penalty is large. How many people are willing to risk a felony conviction and a lifetime voting ban to add one more vote for the candidate of their choice?
When voter fraud does occur, the studies show, it is because of those who count votes, not those who cast them.
So what is the likely legislative reaction in 2012? If members of the General Assembly remain true to recent form, they will reject all the bills that make it easier to register and vote—like same day registration, early voting, no excuse absentee voting—arguing that they will increase voting fraud.
At the same time, there will be a major effort to pass a bill requiring a government-issued ID to vote. This bill, which is part of a national movement to suppress voting by those who are less likely to carry IDs -- that is, the elderly, minorities, and low-income persons -- is making the rounds in state legislatures. It has passed the Virginia House of Delegates before, but was stymied in the Senate.
Given the changes that took place in the House and Senate during Tuesday’s sloppy election, it is safe to say that this bill will have more support than ever in the General Assembly in 2012.
So what can you do other than complain like me? Sign up to be an ACLU of Virginia Grassroots Lobbyist. We’ll keep you up to date on all matters in the General Assembly pertaining to civil rights and civil liberties, and we’ll make it easy for you to contact your elected representatives to let them know your views.