Monday, February 5, 2007

Those 3 million voters turned away (Same-day voting registration -- Part III)

Continuing on with the current debate on same-day voter registration that is before the Montana House of Representatives:

Having addressed one point on the Demos website advocating same-day voter registration, Montana Headlines now turns to a second point -- namely that it allows all eligible voters to vote, unlike now.

Supporting this, Demos states that "nearly 3 million people across the country had registration problems that prevented them from voting -- problems that could have been avoided" by same-day registration. It is interesting that 2000 data is still being quoted in 2007. Wondering why that was, Montana Headlines did a little (admittedly unscientific) research.

Some searching revealed that the data Demos uses (and this same 3 million figure is widely quoted on other organizations' websites as well) came from the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project. The CalTech/MIT publications state that 7.4% of people, or 3 million, didn't vote because of registration problems.

A U.S. Census Bureau study was cited in the CalTech/MIT publications as the source for that number. Hunting down the U.S. Census Bureau report for the 2000 election, it stated that of the 130 million people who reported being registered to vote, 19 million didn't vote. Being asked the reason why they didn't vote, 7% chose "confusion or uncertainty about registration" as a reason.

Starting out, while no-one at Montana Headlines went to MIT, 7% of 19 million is 1.3 million, not 3 million. In addition, that is a far cry from saying that 3 million (or even 1.3 million) were turned away at the polls -- it more likely means that they didn't go in the first place.

Looking at the same U.S. Census Bureau publication for the 2004 election, the number dropped to 1.1 million people who chose "confusion or uncertainty about registration" as their reason for not voting.

Now there may be a U.S. Census Bureau report on the 2000 election with that 3 million figure, but Montana Headlines hasn't found it. And even if it is out there, why isn't an updated 2004 figure quoted? Probably because it doesn't support the argument as well, and perhaps because the 2000 Presidential election has become a sort of Jungian archetype in Democrat psychology.

There is a lot of emotionalism behind this issue. For instance, we learn at Left in the West that "Republicans Attack the Right to Vote" and that "people voting is a problem for folks who don't like what happens when people vote." From subtle arguments like that, one has the opportunity to learn something new about oneself every day.

The mechanics of registration and voting lends itself well to partisan paranoia on both sides. The very fact that the widely quoted 3 million figure is so hard to confirm indicates that it is being thrown around by Democrats without anyone bothering to check the figure or document exactly where the data came from. If figures and facts aren't straight, then the arguments that depend on them are worthless. Saying that 3 million people were turned away at the polls because of registration problems that could have been easily prevented is highly inflammatory -- it's the sort of figure that should have a straight-line reference to a primary source which individual readers can then judge as credible or not.

As an emotional counterpart on the right, Montana Headlines sometimes encounters Republicans who claim that Democrats are engaged in massive nationwide voter fraud every election. It is true that the Democratic party has been anecdotally better at voter fraud than Republicans. This is probably a function of the fact that Democrats currently control the large city machinery, where voter fraud is much easier than it is in smaller towns and rural settings (although it should be noted that the future President Johnson's famous Precinct 13 ballot box was rural in origin.)

Each time those claims of a vast left-wing voter-fraud conspiracy are encountered, we give the same response: "whose fault is that?" In other words, stop complaining and start proving it -- and then doing something about it. If the GOP does neither, then it has no-one to blame but the elephant in the mirror.

Those who advocate for same-day voter registration claim that it doesn't give an advantage to one party or the other (see the Demos website). This may be true -- but again one doubts it given the sharp partisan divide on the issue.

It can certainly be predicted, however, to raise virulent arguments about the legitimacy of an extremely close election, especially if the number of same-day registrants in precincts carried heavily by the winner dwarfs the margin of victory in the final count. Given that Montana is probably in for a lot of close elections in years to come, we really don't need that.

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