By Rob Roper
We can all agree that barring someone who is eligible to vote from doing so is a grave injustice. It robs a citizen in our representative republic of their voice in the process of governance. This is unacceptable.
However, allowing somebody to vote who is not a legally eligible voter has the exact same effect, and is equally unjust. Allowing an ineligible voter to cast a ballot cancels out the vote of a legal voter, effectually erasing that legal voter’s vote. The outcome is the same as if the legal voter had been physically blocked from entering the polling place. This is also unacceptable.
The right to vote is not absolute. It is constrained by certain eligibility requirements, such as residency. I, as a resident of Stowe, have no right to vote in an election deciding who will represent Waterbury in the State House. As a Vermont resident, I have no right to vote on who will represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. Etcetera and vice versa. Doing so would be a crime: voter fraud.
Two principals our political system is based upon are “one person, one vote” and the secret ballot. When we go into the voting booth, we are all equal, and we should be free from any outside pressure. Each eligible voter gets one vote, and it is his or her vote. It cannot be sold or transferred. If person A chooses not to cast a vote, person B does not have the right to cast it for him. Person B does not get to stand over the shoulder of person A and intimidate her into voting the way person B wants. That would mean person B gets two votes.” That’s voter fraud.
As such, our election officials have to be able to verify that every voter who casts a ballot is who they say they are, lives where they say they live, and marks their ballot of their own volition. Please read that last sentence again. Now, how can you possibly do this without requiring some form of ID?
Right now, it is impossible to determine whether or not voter fraud is or isn’t occurring or on what if any scale because practically no mechanisms are in place to look for, let alone catch, would be fraudsters.
Asked in an interview following the last election what would happen if one person requested an absentee ballot for someone else, had it sent to an address where it could be captured, then filled it out and sent it in, Will Senning, the director of elections in the Secretary of State’s office, admitted the fraudster would “not necessarily” be caught. He was hedging. There’s almost no way they would be caught.
Vermont’s Secretary of State, Jim Condos, said in a recent interview, “The only way a person other than the person the ballot is intended for could return the voted ballot is if they perjure themselves on the certificate envelope by recording the name of a registered voter and forging the signature of that voter.”
Yeah! And how hard is that?
Does Condos actually believe someone (say a political operative, an occupation we all know embodies the highest ethical standards) willing to commit voter fraud is going to be worried about perjuring himself? And if someone did do this, how would Condos track down and prosecute the criminal? What if someone did this on a larger scale by identifying a meaningful number of people on the voter roles who don’t regularly vote, and would likely never know their votes were stolen?
This is particularly worrisome because in the last election 95,203 ballots in Vermont were absentee, and, as Williston Town Clerk Deborah Beckett admitted, “Once a ballot leaves the office, you don’t know that it reaches the right person.” If that’s the case, then how can we honestly say we know for sure our election results are valid?
Secretary Condos and Attorney General T.J. Donovan are now looking for every legal maneuver possible to obstruct the president’s federal inquiry into voter fraud. What they really should be doing is asking themselves is how can we verify that A) the person we send an absentee ballot to is the person who actually requested it, B) that the absentee ballot was received by the person who was supposed to receive it, C) that the ballot was filled out and returned by the voter authorized to do so, and D) that the vote was cast without pressure from a third party.
If our election officials can’t do these things, or worse are unwilling to do them, we have a real problem.
Yes, we want every eligible voter to cast a ballot. We should do what we can to make it easy to vote. But we also have an equal responsibility to make it difficult — better impossible — to cheat. If we don’t do this, we undermine the principles of “one person, one vote” and the secret ballot, and with them our representative democracy.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org). He lives in Stowe.