Patt Morrison: Memo to Congress -- Voting Is a Right

EARLY ON election day last June, someone broke into a poll worker’s garage in the Central Valley town of Sanger and stole 1,000 blank ballots and two voting machines. Sinister, no? Florida 2000! Ohio 2004!

Turns out the guy they arrested was just some 20-year-old who’d been busted before — for penny-ante stuff like underage smoking. Maybe he figured he could fence the machines at a swap meet.

Voter ID laws: Patt Morrison’s column Thursday stated that Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) had a copy of his birth certificate when he applied for a Missouri voter ID card. He did not. —

Anyway, stealing elections by stealing voting equipment is so ‘90s. There are much slicker ways to hack an election — a Princeton computer science team just demonstrated how. Using a gizmo that works on hotel mini-bars, it hacked a Diebold voting machine: Unlock it, swap out the software and be gone in 60 seconds.

In February, computer security experts enlisted by California’s secretary of state warned that tampering could change the vote totals, the outcome, even candidates’ names. (Gov. Britney Spears — like the sound of that?)

In the new film “All the King’s Men,” populist demagogue Willie Stark bellows to the crowd, “If you don’t vote, you don’t matter.” I’ve got news for him — even if you do vote, you might not matter.


Why do we still run elections with a haphazard combination of government vote-counters, volunteer poll workers and billion-dollar corporate machinery run by people with political agendas? The head of Diebold wrote in a 2003 letter that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president.”

Now that Americans are wise to electronic voting machines’ paperless vulnerability, Republicans have come up with a new way to fiddle the vote. The House just muscled through a bill requiring voters to show government-issued photo ID proving citizenship — something like a passport, which about four out of five Americans don’t have. And some states have taken up this voter suppression tactic for themselves.

So, right now, can you prove you’re an American citizen? Ike Skelton couldn’t. He’s the Democratic congressman from Missouri who showed how preposterous his own state’s law was. He tried to get a voter ID without a driver’s license or passport. He did have a birth certificate, but it was only a photocopy, not the requisite certified, gold-seal kind. Even his congressional photo ID card wasn’t good enough. If Missouri’s law hadn’t been thrown out, the 15-term congressman, Eagle Scout and church elder couldn’t even have voted for himself.

Arizona requires photo proof of citizenship, so this November, thousands of longtime voters will get booted off the voter rolls, including Navajos, the old, the crippled and the poor. Texas can prosecute someone just for dropping an absentee ballot in the mailbox to help, say, a shut-in neighbor. Before Florida’s voter law was thrown out last month, the League of Women Voters had stopped registering voters for fear of punishing fines if they didn’t file the registration forms within 10 days — come alligators, hurricanes or death.

Long before Georgia’s photo ID law was tossed out by a judge, Gov. Sonny Perdue told National Public Radio that “we can’t get on a commercial airliner” without photo ID. The law’s cheerleaders like to say that just cashing a check or renting a movie requires photo ID.

Maybe these people need a refresher course in civics. Getting on an airplane is a privilege. Renting a movie is a privilege. Voting is a right. Period. They’re confusing commerce with citizenship. That’s no surprise — this country’s leaders have little use for us as citizens, especially ornery citizens who ask questions. Our real worth to them is as consumers, preferably compliant ones, our mouths too full of super-sized meals to complain.

Voter ID laws are a bogus solution in search of a problem. Where are the numbers? Where is the massive voter fraud by noncitizens? The New York Times says that out of 2.7 million registered Arizona voters, only four noncitizens may have voted. And that’s over 10 years. There’s no more evidence of fraud in other states with voter ID laws.

Now, compare those paltry numbers to more than 400,000 complaints to a voter hotline in 2004 alone: Thousands of legitimate voters still waiting in line when polls closed. Myriad voters who gave up and left because there weren’t enough voting machines in some Democratic precincts. Voters whose provisional ballots were wrongly disqualified, or whose names were wrongly scrubbed from voter rolls.


These ID laws are a cynical backdoor route to the exclusion tactics that were outlawed by the 1970s. Blacks who wanted to vote in 1965 Alabama first faced such questions as, “Does enumeration affect the income tax levied on citizens in various states?” and “Who passes laws dealing with piracy?” (Um, Capt. Jack Sparrow?)

The honorable congressmen insist that it’s about guaranteeing the integrity of the political process. You want to restore integrity to the political process? How about starting by restoring integrity to the politicians?