Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ballot Cops, Part 2: ‘Anti-fraud’ campaigns and the disenfranchisement of minorities

Photo: Politic365

As we discussed on an earlier post, the unreliability of manual voting can prompt citizens to try to control electoral fraud by themselves, often incurring in abuse, intimidation and disenfranchisement of the minorities. 

The RNC’s ‘anti-fraud’ program’s tactics included having volunteers ‘patrol’ primarily black and Latino neighborhoods with walkie-talkies, even armed sometimes, and post signs warning that the areas were being watched. The ‘ballot security’ brigade used an outdated address list to send sample ballots to people in these neighborhoods and check which were deemed undeliverable in order to strike them out of the electoral rolls—a technique known as caging—. Then they would station themselves at the polling stations and physically try to stop the targets of this caging list from voting. This practice deprived many eligible voters whose address had changed from their right to vote.

In spite of the accusations of voter intimidation that banned the RNC from continuing their discriminatory activities, 30 years later these resurfaced in the form of individual efforts from groups such as the Knight Street Patriots and True the Vote. These groups are also focusing their areas of action according to race. Worse yet, the ‘anti-fraud’ volunteers seldom catch illegitimate voters red-handed, but on the contrary, voters are increasingly complaining about these brigades’ recurring voter intimidation.

It is hard to draw the line between legitimate anti-fraud efforts and covert campaigns to hinder the rights of the minorities. After all, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned electoral discrimination, sparked fear among conservatives about the rising power of black voters. It is not a coincidence that the RNC began its ‘anti-fraud’ activities around the time that these laws were sanctioned.

‘Anti-fraud’ tactics can become desperate, as the RNC and its modern offshoots have proven, but the truth is that no amount of vote watching will stop fraud in manual voting. If any, it will increase it and cause more damage than good. 

If the risk of fraud were eradicated altogether, there would be no room for discrimination. That’s where technology can play a defining role. Applying a solution that involves biometric identification could help diminish and even eliminate vulnerabilities associated with fraud and intimidation. 

Biometric registration certifies each voter as eligible to participate in democratic processes and no one can argue with that, as the elector’s fingerprint is his or her ID at the polling station. Ballot cops could go into any neighborhood they wanted and they would not find it possible to stop anyone from voting on the grounds of suspected identity theft. A democratic government could benefit from several technological tools to ensure that everyone’s right to suffrage is protected. Concerned citizens can rest assured that electronic polls are made of valid votes only.

Ballot cops need to disappear from the American electoral panorama. However, no amount of prohibition will stop certain citizens from using the faults of defective voting methods to the advantage of their discrimination agenda. Fortunately, the problem of fraud can be eradicated from the root. Without electoral fraud, ballot cops have no reason to exist.