As an elections official, one of my primary concerns is to protect the rights of voters to cast a ballot with full confidence in the democratic process. Fundamental to fostering that confidence is to take all reasonable measures to ensure that the "one man, one vote" tenet is not violated.
In other words, we want to do what we can to be sure that only those who are qualified registered voters are offered a ballot, and that each voter is only allowed one ballot.
Poll managers are the guardians of this process on Election Day. They verify that the person standing in front of them at the voting polling location is indeed the person whose name is on the poll list before them. When the identity is verified, the voter is offered a ballot. I am 100 percent in favor of making the identity verification process as tight as possible to protect the overall integrity of the process.
Gov. Nikki Haley signed House Bill 3003 into law on Wednesday, pending approval from the U.S. Justice Department. This is a law with the advertised objective of reducing voter fraud opportunity by requiring photo identification in order to vote. It sounds like a slam-dunk way to tighten the identity verification process.
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Unfortunately, it is not. It is a pig in a poke delivered by the General Assembly that, in spite of being forewarned, has just introduced a new avenue for voter fraud that did not exist in South Carolina prior to this new law. They did this at a state-estimated price tag of $635,000 for the first year with annual recurring costs of $100,000. Your legislators sold the governor a pretty expensive lemon, and you will be paying for it.
Under this law, validating a voter's address is mutually exclusive of the photo identification presented. In fact, two of the forms of identification allowed -- military ID and passport -- have no address. I've heard the mantra by legislators, "If it's good enough to get you on an airplane, it ought to be good enough to vote." I could agree with that ... if you are getting on the airplane to vote.
Transportation Security Administration agents scan identification to ensure the person in front of them is the person presenting the identification. Poll managers are scanning the identification to be sure that 1) it is the identification of the person presenting it, and 2) that the person just verified is the same as the name in the poll book in front of them.
When address validation is mutually exclusive of identification presented, there is no way to verify the identity of the person presenting himself to vote is actually the person of the same name listed in the poll book.
Consider the following illustration, for instance. On South Carolina's active registered voter rolls, there are 133 voters by the name of "Thomas Davis." Of these 133, there are nine voters in South Carolina by the name of "Thomas C. Davis." Two of them are registered in Beaufort County and vote at the same polling location. With a few mouse clicks on a computer it is a simple process to determine where other voters named "Thomas Davis," or "Thomas C. Davis" may live in South Carolina and in which voting precincts they are likely to be registered. The South Carolina Election Commission standard is for poll managers to reference the poll book and ask the voter, "Is this your current address?" Thus, there is nothing to prohibit someone named Thomas Davis (much less Thomas C. Davis) from making an early appearance at another Thomas Davis' voting precinct, answer the poll managers' question in the affirmative, steal his vote, and then proceed to his own precinct to cast a ballot.
In this scenario, while the voter may have broken the law, there is no way the poll manager could have prevented the perpetration of voter fraud. Under the law, the poll manager verified that the picture presented on the identification card was that of the person who presented it. Did the poll manager act in accordance with the law and established procedures? Yes, and in doing so aided the perpetrator in committing voter fraud.
If the objective of House Bill 3003 was to protect the rights of voters and the integrity of the ballot box, then the General Assembly failed miserably. If the objective was to pass a piece of landmark legislation on the election process that you can hold over your head like a professional wrestling championship belt, then mission accomplished. By the way, professional wrestling is just pretend.
Scott M. Marshall is executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections and Registration.