By Byron York - 03/17/05 12:00 AM EST
Let’s say it’s Election Day 2008. You really, really, really want to vote for the Democratic nominee for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), but you’re not registered to vote. You also don’t have a driver’s license or any sort of official photo identification that would tell the people down at the polling place who you are.
You don’t even have anything to show that you’re an American citizen.
But it’s Election Day, and you still want to vote for Clinton. What do you do?
Well, you go right down to that polling place, tell them you want to register, on the spot, and vote. And if anybody questions you, tell them you don’t need a prior registration, or a photo ID, proof of citizenship or anything else.
Clinton said so.
She really did — just a few weeks ago, in the form of her new bill, the Count Every Vote Act of 2005.
Although Clinton calls the measure “critical to restoring America’s faith in our voting system,” it might more accurately be described as the most wide-ranging assault ever on the idea that there should be minimum enforceable standards for voters. Just look at some of its provisions.
One section says, “Each state shall permit an individual on the day of a Federal election to register to vote in such election at the polling place ... [and] to cast a vote in such election and have that vote counted in the same manner as a vote cast by an eligible voter who properly registered during the regular registration period.”
Another provision says, “Each state and jurisdiction shall accept and process a voter registration application for an election for Federal office unless there is a material omission or information that specifically affects the eligibility of the voter. There shall be a presumption that persons who submit voter registration applications should be registered.”
And a third section adds, “The following shall not constitute a ‘material omission or information that specifically affects the eligibility of the voter’: (1) The failure to provide a Social Security number or driver’s license number. (2) The failure to provide information concerning citizenship or age in a manner other than” a simple statement that one is a citizen.
Put all those together and you have a recipe for chaos. Anyone can show up on Election Day, register and vote, and officials would have no way of knowing whether that person was eligible to vote or not. All Clinton would require is that the person “affirm” that he or she is eligible to vote.
And, as they say, that’s not all.
The Count Every Vote Act of 2005 would also require states to allow anyone to cast a provisional vote anywhere in a state, no questions asked. The number of provisional votes one might cast would be limited only by the number of polling places that could be visited in a day.
The bill would also allow felons to vote after they’ve done their time and are off probation (this is the provision that attracted a lot of criticism from conservatives, although it’s hardly the worst thing in the bill). And it would require that the federal government force states to ensure “an equal waiting time for all voters” at all polling places.
Seriously. The bill actually directs the federal Election Assistance Commission to devise a formula for voting line length.
That formula would be based on “the voting age population; voter turnout in past elections; the number of voters registered; the number of voters who have registered since the most recent federal election; Census data for the population served by such voting site; the educational levels and socio-economic factors of the population served by such voting site; the needs and numbers of disabled voters and voters with limited English proficiency; [and] the type of voting systems used.”
And those are not even the most important parts of the bill, at least according to Clinton. The most crucial provision, she says, is the one requiring that voting machines produce an “individual voter-verifiable paper record” of each vote. That’s a nod to those Democrats who believe that Karl Rove somehow personally hacked the touch-screen voting machines in Ohio to deny Sen. John Kerry his rightful victory.
Making touch-screen machines produce a paper record turns out to be quite complicated, introducing new possibilities for error into the process. But what the hell — Clinton’s entire bill introduces all sorts of new possibilities for error into the process.
In fact, the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 might be viewed as a massive, wholly intentional attempt to introduce new possibilities for error into the system, with the hope that most of the errors will benefit Democrats.
Clinton says her bill will “improve the franchise and truly improve our democracy.”
Even if she has to wreck the system to do it.
York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org