A simple, just fix to voter fraud: Take fingerprints
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The specter of voter fraud hangs over our electoral process and undermines the legitimacy of our elected leaders. Partisans on one side see fraudsters cavorting with the communists under their beds. Partisans on the other side claim that there is no such thing because no one is in prison for it.   

The reality, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. American history is filled with stories of endemic voter fraud in corrupt political machines such as Tammany Hall in New York. Chicago was notorious for votes cast by dead people, leading to the slogan “Vote early and often.”

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The nation is also haunted by a shameful history of voter suppression, most notably the suppression of the voting rights of African-Americans in the South. African-Americans were systematically deprived of their voting rights through a series of obstacles, including expensive poll taxes, unpassable “literacy” tests and outright violence.

 

Without some method of determining who actually voted, it is virtually impossible to detect voter fraud. It is not surprising that there are no prosecutions for a crime that is nearly undetectable. Voter fraud is as close to the perfect crime as possible.  A political operative, armed with the names of registered voters who have recently died or moved, could easily vote in dozens of precincts in a single day with little chance of detection.  

A handful of such operatives could swing a very close election. With passions riding high in a polarized political climate, it stands to reason that some partisans would be willing to commit fraud. These partisans could be lone wolves motivated by the passions of the election or part of a conspiracy within a campaign organization. They may be willing to commit voter fraud just to offset feared fraud from the other side.

One proposed solution is to have strict voter identification (ID) laws. People who show up at the polls without the right paperwork would be denied the vote. This sounds reasonable on its face, as most citizens of voting age have some form of identification. Indeed, people have to regularly show identification just to function in our society.

Alas, there are many reasons why a legitimate voter may show up at the polls without proper ID. The elderly person who has chosen to stop driving may have an expired driver’s license. The man who was mugged yesterday may not have been able to replace his identification in time to vote.  

A harried mom may show up at the voting booth and discover that her husband drove off to work with her purse in his car. A person with a recent name change, such as a newly married woman, may have identification that does not match an old voter registration database. 

Draconian voter ID laws provide yet another obstacle to voting that will disproportionately affect the poor, the busy and the differently abled. Given our sad history of voter suppression, many voter ID proposals are seen as yet another attempt to suppress historically disenfranchised voters.  

Political parties that propose draconian measures are hurting their chances with minority voters, who see voter ID laws as nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to resurrect Jim Crow.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to deter voter fraud and provide strong evidence with which to convict fraudsters — fingerprints.  If a person shows up at the polls without proper identification, they should be required to leave a fingerprint. They could put a fingerprint on a form on which they attest their identity under penalty of perjury.  

This process would be very cheap. It costs next to nothing to take a fingerprint, and follow up investigations would only be needed if there were other suspicions of voter fraud or the election was close enough to require a recount. Everyone has fingerprints, so there is no possibility of someone showing up without identification.  

If there is a suspicion of illegal voting, the fingerprint can later be checked against law enforcement databases to verify identity. This makes it easy to prove who actually voted in that precinct on that day. A fingerprint would provide irrefutable evidence that would lead to a conviction.

Such biometric evidence will serve as an extremely strong deterrent to voter fraud.  Any potential fraudster would be reluctant to leave behind such strong evidence proving that they were lying about their identity. Faced with a near certainty of detection and conviction, most potential fraudsters will decline to take the risk.

The integrity of our electoral process is a necessary foundation for our society.  As some elections are very close, even a very small amount of voter fraud can hijack an election. Our elections, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion.

Requiring fingerprints of those who show up at the polls without identification is a cost-effective measure that will deter voter fraud by making it easier to detect. I call upon our political class to adopt this simple compromise to protect the integrity of our political process. 

 

James J. Angel, Ph.D., CFA is an associate finance professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.