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Protecting the right to vote

The right to vote is one of the most sacred rights granted us by our democratic republic. The United States can boast to the entire world that we have one of the fairest electoral processes yet achieved amongst modern governments. On Election Day, every American doctor and deliveryman, lawyer and laborer, can come together as equals to participate in selecting our civic leadership.

Yet every election year, the fairness of our system is challenged by dishonest individuals who attempt to cheat our political system by committing voter fraud, lessening the political impact of those votes that are cast legally. Of the many forms of fraud, “ballot stuffing” is one of the most common and most difficult to detect. When an individual casts multiple votes in different precincts, he unfairly increases his own representation in government while diminishing the impact of his fellow citizen’s vote.

North Carolina is uniquely prone to voter fraud because its same-day voter registration law allows individuals to instantly register and vote during an early voting period (beginning 19 days prior to an election and ending three days before Election Day) in a process referred to as One-Stop Voting. North Carolinians may enter a specified polling place, register and vote in a matter of minutes. Though this system eliminates an extra trip for many in the electorate, it also sharply reduces the amount of time polling employees have to verify that each voter’s information is correct.

Of the 100 counties in N.C., each individual county is broken down into voter precincts (for reference, there are 55 precincts in Durham County alone). But precincts themselves can be divided into subsections, increasing the complexity of vote-collection methods. When hundreds of precincts across the state submit their polling results, state officials are hard pressed to cross reference voter lists to eliminate duplicates by the end of Election Day. The end result is that ballot stuffing presents a real threat to our democratic process.

The August arrest of three Wake County residents who voted multiple times in the 2008 presidential election confirms the dangers that ballot stuffing poses. It took state officials almost three years to catch these criminals who had no specific skills or expertise, a frightening testament to the difficulty of tracking down cases of voter fraud. The difficulties in detecting voter fraud prohibit development of an adequate metric of its effect on elections. Had proper voter ID laws been in place, law enforcement officials would have stood a better chance of preventing the fraud in the first place.

In July of this year, a majority of the N.C. legislature approved House Bill 351, a bill designed to reduce voter fraud by mandating that voters produce photo ID at polling places. By requiring valid government photo ID, the legislation would make it harder for individuals to vote in multiple precincts or mislead poll workers. Unfortunately, Gov. Beth Purdue vetoed HB 351 a week later. While explaining why she vetoed HB 351, Purdue said “this bill, as written, will unnecessarily and unfairly disenfranchise many eligible and legitimate voters.” Her statement echoed the sentiments of many of the bill’s detractors, who opposed its passage on the grounds that requiring voter ID would turn away potential voters who did not possess valid government photo IDs.

It’s a shame such an important piece of legislation was vetoed, especially since the accusations against it were patently false. HB 351 not only requires photo IDs be shown at polling places, but also mandates that local governments provide free voter ID cards to citizens who request them ahead of election season. HB 351 does not disenfranchise voters, rather, it empowers North Carolinians by providing them with a free form of government identification.

And the benefit of providing free government IDs is invaluable. The law requires that proper photo identification must be presented on trains, to apply for jobs and even to buy spray paint, fishing licenses and lighters. Therefore, it puts no undue burden on the voter by asking them to act ahead of time and acquire a valid ID.

Purdue’s stance on the issue not only obfuscated the bill’s intended purpose but also countermanded the wishes of her recipients: A large majority of Carolinians stood in support of the bill. In a Civitas Institute poll published in July of this year, 60 percent of respondents reported that they opposed Purdue’s veto.

The right to vote is a sacred tenant of our representative democracy. It gives a voice to those without representation, and provides a safeguard against oppression. If we fail to protect this fundamental freedom from those who would usurp it, we risk undermining the foundation of our democracy. HB 351 protects the right to vote by adding a reasoned and measured precaution. The electorate has nothing to lose but the proverbial chains of voter fraud and gains a free government ID card to boot.

William Reach is a Trinity junior and the president of Duke College Republicans. His column runs every other Tuesday.

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