I have major concerns about Arrington Dixon's voter registration proposal and any other election law reform that comes at the eleventh hour. Three short months before a major election is the worst possible time to have the elections board involved in unnecessary change and untested procedures. Such precipitous measures created a big problem during the last general election.
Notwithstanding the untimely introduction of this legislation, I am generally opposed to any form of same-day voter registration. It is, without question, an open invitation to fraud, disruption and corruption of our city's electoral process. Dixon's bill would require the board to verify only 10 percent of the total number of voter registration applications executed at the polls on Election Day. The existing statute provides that the board shall verify--through its non-forwardable voter notification cards--each and every registration application presented to it, before accepting someone as a bona fide voter.
As was painfully demonstrated in the tuition tax credit initiative, the voter registration system can be manipulated. Seven people who were registered voters in other states attempted to register to vote in the District for the sole purpose of circulating an initiative petition that would have cut into the city's revenue base. Without verification of all voter registration applications, these kinds of illegal activities would go undetected.
Dixon was the principal complainant listed in a suit against the circulators of that measure. He saw the risks of permissive registration then, but now he seeks to make it easier to manipulate our city's voting registration. His bill calls for people to present "suitable evidence" of their qualifications. But let's examine this "evidence":
* A current driver's license: What happens if a person moves out of the District and fails to change a permit or tags? The Department of Transportation admits that this is a problem. It is easy for an individual to maintain several permits, so it is not a safe assumption that a D.C. driver's license is an indicator of residency.
* Mortgages, leases, utility bills: The elections board is not qualified to investigate landlord-tenant relations to document the sufficiency of such evidence.
* A currently registered voter affirming that a second party is qualified to vote: This opens the door to a third party being prosecuted for perjury because he or she swore to another person's qualifications.
To make matters worse, this bill would hold the results of an election in limbo for as long as four months. The board would have up to 120 days after an election to verify same-day registrations. Let's face it--120 days after an election, all ballots have been counted, results have been certified and the elected official is in office.
What happens if the board discovers four months after the election that ballots were counted for people who were not qualified to vote? In a close election, it could make a difference--and there could be lawsuits, a new election, chaos and even the ruination of the electoral system.
Dixon also has not taken into consideration the adverse fiscal impact the bill would have on the city. The elections board would have to hire additional poll workers at an estimated $50 a day per employee, in proportion to the total number of people who are of voting age and are reported to live in the District. Additional voting equipment (at $325 a unit) to compensate for the estimated percentage of people who would attempt same-day registration could cost an additional $55,000.
If the council, the chairman and the mayor really wanted to increase the number of registered voters, they could take a fraction of the additional money needed for this bill and conduct a media campaign on the deadlines for registering. The elections board received expert data processing assistance from Geico and already has resurrected the names dropped from a 1980 printout, in addition to some 15,000 others. The board also has retained an executive director with years of experience and feels certain that the voter rolls will accurately reflect all registered voters. Also, the council recently amended the election laws to provide for listings of voters to be placed in public libraries no later than 45 days before an election.
I don't know about what people in North Dakota, Wisconsin and Connecticut do. Frankly, I don't care. What I do care about is how we run elections in this city. With the problems we have had in the past, this amendment would be the antithesis of an orderly system. It would create substantially more problems than it purports to solve.