Commentary

Cheating is a Problem, Too

This article originally appeared in USA Today on September 16, 2002.

For the most part, election reform has focused on machinery. That’s fine, as far as it goes. More money for better machines means fewer people will spoil their ballots and fail to cast their votes. But reformers cannot lose sight of other important fixes to ensure the integrity of the election system.

Requiring those who register by mail to present some kind of identification, for example, assures everyone that only eligible voters affect the outcome of an election.

Some activists say requiring an ID will discourage minorities from voting. I doubt it. While in line at last Tuesday’s primary election in the District of Columbia, I asked fellow voters whether we needed an ID to vote (we didn’t). As it happened, they all were African-American and had brought some ID.

The ID requirement prevents voting fraud, a real possibility. Recall the registration fraud perpetuated in St. Louis in the 2000 election, in which, among other things, 14 dead people registered and voted. Such chicanery inspires doubts about the integrity of the process. With an ID requirement, everyone can trust our elections.

The other unresolved issue is less discussed but equally important. Activists say election reform requires a vast new federal bureaucracy to regulate and fund elections. They want to allow this agency to spend federal money on elections at its discretion.

Centralizing power over elections is a bad idea. Local control seems apt for such a large and diverse nation as the United States. While Florida has had some problems, local election officials effectively oversee thousands of polling places every year.

With more money, they may do even better. But federal funds should be allocated by formula. Giving a new federal election agency the right to choose which areas get more money for elections offers an open invitation to favoritism along party lines.

Politics may yet prevent sensible election reform. Some think scuttling the reform bill will give the Democrats a good issue in the upcoming election.

Congress should put politics aside and get on with the business of making it easier to vote and harder to cheat. American voters deserve no less.

John Samples is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government.