Saturday, October 29, 2016

State Election Law Resembles The Jerk

The Center of the American Experiment reports on a lawsuit in Minnesota by state election judges alleging that Secretary of State guidelines for the treatment of nominally ineligible voters are illegal.

State law establishes a detailed procedure to match felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens against the list of people who have registered to vote in the statewide voter registration system. In the case of a match, county auditors are required to change the voter status of any registered voters who are determined to be felons, under guardianship or noncitizens. 
But according to instructions from the Secretary of State, election officials must allow felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens who are identified as such on the poll roster to vote anyway, so long as they take an oath claiming they are eligible to vote. 
Joe Mansky, a highly influential election official from Ramsey County, has affirmed the legal obligations and penalties for failing to provide ballots to felons, people under guardianship and noncitizens who take an oath. 
“Election judges in Minnesota are legally required to allow a challenged voter to vote if they answer questions under oath that indicate they are eligible to vote,” Mansky said in recent court documents.

I suppose the trust being showed by our government for the citizens' opinion is admirable.  But is there any other area of the law where this standard applies?

How about taxes?

MN Dept. of Revenue:  It says here you owe $20,000 in state income tax.
John Q. Public:   No I don’t.
State Official:  OK, you got me there, enjoy the rest of your day.

How about the search for fugitive criminals?

Storm Trooper:   Let me see your identification.
Obi Wan Kenobi:   These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Storm Trooper:   These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

Actually in Minnesota you don’t need to be skilled in the Jedi Mind Trick to get your way, they’ll take anybody’s word for it.   So the law appears to be based more on another 70’s movie classic, The Jerk.

In all seriousness, although this law is misguided, the potential for it to be a cause of a significant level of voter fraud is small.  The process would have to play out as follows.  Someone registers to vote legally.  At some point, they become ineligible (felony conviction, become subject to a guardianship due to some level of disability, voter found to be non-citizen via other means), and the state knows about it and changes the roster to reflect it.   That person shows up at the same precinct in which they were originally registered to vote.  They are informed that they are ineligible. They dispute it and insist they be allowed to vote anyway.  At that point an election judge would administer an oath (in front of election judges from both parties) that the voter would swear to, and be informed that knowingly violating this oath is a felony.

Is it possible for ineligible voters to vote in these circumstances?  Yes, certainly.

Is it likely to occur?  The likelihood of a pre-identified illegible voter pushing the issue in such a public way is small.  It wouldn’t surprise me if this failed to happen a single time in the course of an election in the entire state.   And, barring some absurdly close race, it certainly wouldn’t occur to the extent that it could affect the outcome of an election.

Is it likely to be abused in a systematic, coordinated fashion?   Assuming the conscientious performance of election judges, including the presence of bi-partisan judges at all precincts, absolutely not.  It would be too public and leave too much of a witness trail to be sustained.  

So this particular lax standard and loophole probably isn’t something that needs a lot of attention.   Another lax standard and loophole is a far greater risk for the participation of ineligible voters.  That would be them moving from the precinct where the state has them originally registered to vote, and voting at the new location.  They wouldn’t be on the roster at this other location and no pre-existing challenge would exist.  As long as they met the registration requirements at their new location, they could vote without any questions asked.  The loophole of same day registration, and no same day crosschecking of ineligible voters in a database beyond the precinct register, would allow it.

If you’re getting the sense that the entire system is set up to err on the side of letting ineligible voters vote, rather than erring on the side of mistakenly preventing a legal voter from voting, you are correct.   I believe that to be a clear reflection of the state’s liberal political culture.  Social science has established that liberals prize notions of fairness and compassion over the more conservative preferences of reciprocity and respect for authority/tradition.   Until that culture gets changed, short of clear evidence of coordinated fraud, I do not expect the voting laws to change.