The Same-Day Boogeyman

Removing barriers to voter participation: it’s an issue that’s long overdue for some serious attention. Vermont’s new law, allowing same-day voter registration, is a nice start.

What else? Well, there’s no good reason other than tradition to hold elections on Tuesdays. Especially in Vermont, where polling places close at 7 p.m. That’s not much time for working folk to get to the polls.

But if you want to keep your Tuesday voting because Grandfather’s Light Bulb, then I’d suggest adoption of Hillary Clinton’s proposal for at least 20 days of early voting. That would give everyone a full opportunity to participate. Early voting has allowed many more to exercise their right when it’s been adopted.

“This is, I think, a moment when we should be expanding the franchise,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said in an interview. “What we see in state after state is this effort by conservatives to restrict the right to vote.”

Of course, the new law is being greeted with whining and carping from Vermonters with no apparent interest in getting more people to vote. Accounts of the bill becoming law were lightly sprinkled with comments from town clerks alleging that we’re opening the door to voter fraud.

Ah, voter fraud, favored chimera of conservatives. The Bush Administration bent its Justice Department to the task of rooting out voter fraud. And after eight full years of effort, they found a mere handful of cases. In a time when hundreds of millions of ballots were cast.

I suspect that the loudly complaining clerks are either Republicans parroting discredited arguments, or they are complacent public officials with no interest in change. These are the same people who have repeatedly balked at Secretary of State Jim Condos’ efforts to gather unofficial vote totals on Election Night. Many clerks, for no good reason besides Grandfather’s Light Bulb, simply tabulated their votes, turned off the lights, and went home.

In the case of last fall’s gubernatorial election, this meant a lengthy and pointless delay in determining who finished first. I have little sympathy for recalcitrant town clerks.

Remember, after eight years of full-court pressure on “voter fraud,” the Bush administration utterly failed to uncover any evidence that it’s a problem. And yet the myth is endlessly repeated as gospel by people like Republican Sen. Dustin Degree.

“In Vermont, voter fraud doesn’t have to be large. Voter fraud can be small … and can have an effect on the outcome of a race,” Degree says.

That might be a credible argument if there was the slightest bit of evidence that voter fraud is anything greater than infinitesimal. But there isn’t. A Washington Post analysis found 31 credible cases of voter fraud since 2000, a period in which more than a billion votes have been cast in federal, state, and local elections. That’s a fraud rate of .00000031%. And as we have found to our dismay in 2000’s Florida election and 2004’s Ohio, our vote-counting systems are incapable of producing that kind of accuracy. The error rate is far greater than the fraud rate.

This law is a solid step toward enabling broader participation. Let’s celebrate that accomplishment, and let the town clerks do their duty.

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