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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mid-week McIlheran Watch: May I see some ID?

If it's Wednesday, there must be a new Patrick McIlheran column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As I posted yesterday, the Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney indicated that there was no conspiracy to commit fraud or steal an election in Milwaukee. (Wouldn't you like to see this kind of investigation in Ohio?) While very harshly pointing out the clerical and systemic problems with the way Milwaukee runs its elections was an "impediment" to charging and punishing the few individuals who did set out consciously to cheat in the election.

So, knowing this, what would your recommendations for change have been? Probably something along the lines of what both Tom Barrett and Jim Doyle have proposed, right? Changes to the way elections are administered and records kept here in Milwaukee, to make sure that poll workers are better trained and fraudulent voters get caught more quickly and prosecuted more effectively. (Remember that the US attorney is 0 for 4 in fraud prosecutions so far.) Even reliable Republican Owen agrees:
The laws are in place to keep good records, but many of the people charged with implementing the laws are either incompetent, negligent, or corrupt. If it takes more money to make the system better--as the Democrats contend--then so be it. Let’s spend the money. But I want to see a serious effort by election officials to do their duty and severe consequences when they fail. We cannot continue to tolerate poll workers, clerks, election officials, and prosecutors who fail to competently do their duty.
We should do everything in our power to make sure that those entrusted with running the election are well trained and thoroughly ethical, since they are the front lines. We should also make sure that the records are clean enough to spot cheating when it happens. This makes sense.

But you all know Patrick McIlheran as well as I do, so you can probably guess what his column is about today. In fact, you could probably write it yourself:
One preventive measure, a statewide voter list, won't be ready by April's election. Even then, while it can prevent cheaters from voting twice, it won't stop same-day registrants from using fake names, for instance. It won't tell a poll worker the person arriving to vote is really the person on the list. While making voters show photo identification won't solve every problem, either, with the list it will reduce the opportunities.

This week also brings news that Wisconsinites suffering colds must endure layers of rigamarole to score some pseudoephedrine. They can't just buy Sudafed; they must find an open pharmacy, where a registered pharmacist must log the sale, all because if you grind up enough cold pills, you can make a batch of crank. Of course, customers must prove their identity.

Those who oppose asking voters to do that say it amounts to disenfranchisement since many poor people, particularly African-American men, lack driver's licenses. A bill, vetoed in the summer by Gov. Jim Doyle, would have required photo ID of voters but also would have offered a free one to anyone lacking a license. The bill's offer would have opened other doors: relief from colds, the use of libraries, the chance to buy an Amtrak ticket, all of which require photo ID.
That's right--even though, as Xoff points out, State Republican Party chair Rick Graber forgot to include voter ID in his own statement, McIlheran gives it the spotlight in his column. Problem is, voter ID doesn't fix the problems, and even though the US attorney stands by his report that around 100 people may have cheated in some way, there's no reason to believe that further investigation would reveal that there was cheating. If a lack of evidence prevents prosectuion, it may also prevent the discovery of exculpatory evidence. Consider, if you will, Republican Waukesha County DA Paul Bucher's fraud goose chases, or the Republican party's smearing of an innocent family; once the investigations were pursued, no charges were brought.

Of course, that doesn't stop Republicans from wanting to stop vote fraud "real and imagined," including McIlheran. Voter ID, they believe, will stop people willing to fake a utility bill (as Owen hypothesizes) to same-day register, for example. But IDs can be faked just as easily, and training poll workers to spot fake IDs will take even more time and money. Instead, let's enforce the laws we have (I almost feel dirty borrowing that from the NRA) and clean up the record-keeping to make prosecution more successful for the small, small percentage of cheaters.

Because let's assume that the US attorney is right, and even after full investigation, he could prove 100 people cheated. And let's assume that the 100 cheaters he could catch were only 10% of all the cheaters out there. That puts the total fraudulent vote count at 1000, out of 3,000,000 cast. While I agree that one cheater is one cheater too many, the risk of disenfranchising up to ten percent of all voters through a voter ID requirement is far worse than the risk that 0.03% of voters might cheat.

And as for the asinine comparison of voting to buying Sudafed or riding Amtrak (though the last time I rode Amtrak, I didn't have to show a photo ID, but I did need a credit card), when a citizen's right to cold and flu relief ends up in the US or Wisconsin Constitutions, then we can talk. There's no protection in the fourteenth amendment to rent a DVD at Blockbuster, and to compare the two (I'm looking at you, McIlheran) demeans us all.

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