A recent story that didn't get nearly the attention it deserved was the New York Daily News report that 46,000 registered New York City voters are also registered to vote in Florida. Nearly 1,700 of them have had absentee ballots mailed to their home in the other state, and as many as 1,000 have voted twice in the same election. Can 1,000 fraudulent votes change an election? Well, George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by just 537 votes.
It is illegal to register to vote simultaneously in different jurisdictions, but scofflaws have little to worry about. As the Daily News noted, "efforts to prevent people from registering and voting in more than one state rely mostly on the honor system." Those who break the law rarely face prosecution or serious punishment. It's easy -- and painless -- to cheat.
I learned this firsthand in 1996, when I registered my wife's cat as a voter in Cook County, Ill., Norfolk County, Mass., and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and then requested absentee ballots from all three venues. My purpose wasn't to cast illegal multiple votes but to demonstrate how vulnerable to manipulation America's election system has become.
It was a simple scam to pull off. "Under the National Voter Registration Act -- the `Motor Voter Law' -- states are required to accept voter registrations by mail," I wrote at the time. "No longer can citizens be asked to make a trip to town hall or the county office. No longer do they have to provide proof of residence or citizenship. In fact, they don't have to exist. Motor Voter obliges election officials to add to the voter list any name mailed in on a properly filled-out registration form. Anyone so registered can then request an absentee ballot -- by mail, of course. The system is not only open to manipulation, it invites it."
As journalist John Fund shows in an alarming new book, "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy," the United States has an elections system that would be an embarrassment in Honduras or Ghana. It is so unpoliced, he writes, that at least eight of the 9/11 hijackers "were actually able to register to vote in either Virginia or Florida while they made their deadly preparations."
How fouled up are the voter rolls? So fouled up that in some cities there are more registered voters than there are adults. So fouled up that when the Indianapolis Star investigated Indiana's records a few years ago, it discovered that hundreds of thousands of names -- as many as one-fifth of the total -- were "bogus" since the individuals named had moved, died, or gone to prison. So fouled up that when a Louisiana paper filed 25 phony voter registration forms signed only with an "X," 21 were approved and added to the voter list.
Illegal aliens have been registered, too, since under Motor Voter, any recipient of government benefits can sign up to vote, no questions asked. Did that wide-open door to fraud cost former GOP Congressman Robert Dornan his seat in Congress? An investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service following Dornan's 1996 defeat by Democrat Loretta Sanchez found that 4,023 noncitizens may have cast ballots in that election. Dornan lost by 984 votes.
It shouldn't take a degree in rocket science to fix a system this sloppy and chaotic. But not everyone wants to fix it. Some operatives don't mind cheating if it brings more of "their" voters to the polls. Fund cites the findings of Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson and political scientist Larry Sabato, co-authors of a recent book on corruption in American politics. Some liberal activists they interviewed go so far as to justify voter fraud on the grounds that such "extraordinary measures" compensate for the weaker political clout of minorities and the poor.
One simple fix -- requiring every voter to show ID when registering and voting -- would seem to be a no-brainer. Opinion polls show that the vast majority of Americansfavor such a reform. After all, ID is required when boarding an airplane or buying liquor. Why not when voting?
Yet, incredibly, powerful political interests have long fought to block an ID requirement. The NAACP and La Raza liken it to the poll tax that Southern states once used to keep blacks from voting. A Democratic Party official says that "ballot security" and "preventing voter fraud" are simply code for voter suppression. That willingness to play the race card is not merely dishonorable; it is undemocratic. For as Fund notes, "when voters are disenfranchised by the counting of improperly cast ballots, their civil rights are violated just as surely as if they were prevented from voting."
The drift toward Third World-caliber elections in the most advanced democracy in the world is scandalous. Then again, if Americans can't be bothered to scrub the voting rolls or to make sure that voters are properly ID'd, maybe they've got the election system they deserve.