February 2, 2005

Purple ink for voters in the U.S.?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues its investigation into possible fraud in last fall's election. It also notes this development:
[O]n Monday, Republicans in Madison renewed a push - which failed two years ago - to require all voters to show photo identification.

On Tuesday, Rick Graber, head of the state Republican Party, challenged his Democratic counterpart to appear at a hearing on the matter Thursday so together they can condemn "the fact that potentially thousands of voters across Wisconsin had their legally cast ballot disenfranchised by fraud and abuse."

Linda Honold, state Democratic Party chair, said she was unsure if she would attend the meeting but added that if she did go, she would do so to oppose the bill.

"If I'm there, I'm not going to be arguing what he wants me to argue," she said.

Others, including the head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the group Wisconsin Citizen Action, condemned the voter ID proposal.

"The way to prevent fraud is more and better poll workers," said Larry Marx, co-executive director of Wisconsin Citizen Action. "We want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. The photo ID bill makes it harder to vote and harder to cheat."

Easier to vote and harder to cheat? How about if we dip our fingers in a jar of purple ink? That seems to be a stylish new way to prevent fraud. But I am certain that if such a proposal were seriously made in this country, it would be denounced as an outrageous infringement of individual rights, plainly unconstitutional. In order to exercise the right to vote, a person is forced to go about with a visible stigma, compelled to go about saying, in essence, "I voted." I'm sure those who oppose the war in Iraq would find the finger-dipping unusually irksome, because it would also seem to symbolize the positive side of that war. But it would be easier than a photo ID. You have to go to some trouble to obtain a photo ID (though it's only a problem for people who don't drive), and virtually everyone has a finger to dip in a jar. But I'll bet we'd never even get close to adopting such a measure here.

UPDATE: Sneaking Suspicions proposed ink dipping for Milwaukee last Sunday. An emailer writes: "As long as one party or the other sees advantage in maintaining cheating-friendly procedures, they will fight a simple cheap solution of any kind. And of course, there are solvents: ink might not work here."

ANOTHER UPDATE: An emailer writes: "The nice thing about using ink is that cheaters can be recognized by the skin falling off their fingers. Using solvent to clean a finger 100 times or more in a day will 'leave a mark.'" I don't know how harsh these solvents are, but if the effects were that strong, you could not only catch the would-be fraudulent voter but prove their intent to commit a fraud. Right now, there are few prosecutions for fraudulent voting because -- I think -- defendants just say they thought they were allowed to vote twice. Put more mildly, having to get rid of the ink would deter voters from doing something they might otherwise take somewhat lightly. It seems similar to the way someone might be willing to trespass by opening an unlocked door, but refrain from breaking and entering.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: A emailer notes that absentee voting undermines the inked finger solution.

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