The Weak Anti-Fraud Argument Against Universal Voter Registration

One of the key recommendations I make in The Voting Wars to fix the problems with our election system is universal voter registration conducted by the federal government combined with a national voter id card.  The i.d. card would assign each potential voter a unique voter id number, which would stay with the voter her entire life as she moves across the U.S.  The id card would give voters the option of providing a thumb print, so that if a voter ever forgets or loses the card she can use a thumb print for voting.  States would still get to set qualifications for voting: determining, for example, whether a person who registers to vote in a state is really a resident, is entitled to vote under rules barring felon voting, etc.

I have no illusions that this plan is going to be adopted any time soon.  Indeed, I often joke that the plan is one that unites Democrats and Republicans….against the plan.  Republicans tend not to like the universal voter id aspect (which is why election reformers speak in terms of “modernization” of voter registration) and Democrats don’t like the i.d. portion.

But a key benefit of the dual system I propose is that it prevents a number of different types of fraud, including voter registration fraud (no more third party voter registration groups) and double voting between states.  National voter id also would prevent voter impersonation fraud (if this were a real problem—which it is not).  It would also prevent non-citizen voting, because the federal government would verify citizenship before putting someone onto the national voter registration rolls.

So imagine my surprise that a group of conservative Secretaries of State are getting together to attack the proposal for universal voter registration on grounds that it would promote fraud.

Let’s be clear. There are three reasons why Republican secretaries of state would really oppose this effort.

1. A turf war/federalism.  State and local officials believe they should have the right to run federal elections, even though the Constitution gives Congress the power to set national rules for federal elections.

2. Federal government incompetence. State and local officials may think they can do a better job running elections. The track record on the state and local level, as I detail in my book, leaves me doubting this claim.

3. Expansion of the electorate could benefit Democrats.  Whether it is true or not, there’s a belief that nonvoters tend to skew Democratic, and expanding the rolls to make it easier to vote could help Democrats.  It empowers people to vote who did not take the time to vote or who did not do things right to register. As a matter of both philosophy and partisanship, Republicans may well oppose expanding the electorate in this way.

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