Lloyd Omdahl, Published May 02 2011
Omdahl: Voter ID bill rightly rejected
Back in the 1970s, a foundation in New York asked for tangible evidence that fraud-free elections were possible without voter registration. North Dakota was the only state without voter registration. While their interest related to registration, the data gathered proved that we were running clean elections without making voters jump through preliminary hoops.
I sent surveys to 104 election inspectors in the eight major cities and the state’s attorneys in 53 counties. Seventy-nine of the election inspectors and 42 of the state’s attorneys returned the questionnaires. On average, the election inspectors had worked in 20 elections; the state’s attorneys averaged eight years in office. In other words, the people in charge of overseeing elections and prosecuting voter fraud answered the questionnaires based on years of observation.
Under current law, if the eligibility of a voter is questioned, he or she can be asked to sign an affidavit attesting to his or her qualifications. A false affidavit is serious – felony perjury. When asked if a prospective voter ever refused to sign the affidavit, an overwhelming majority of election inspectors said that the affidavit was always signed without hesitation. Fraudulent voters would hesitate.
Then we asked how often they felt unqualified voters cast ballots in their precincts. Fifty inspectors said “never” and 28 said “seldom.” None of them chose the options of “regularly,” “often” or “always.” Those choosing “seldom” related the problem not to fraud but to farmers who had moved to town but still owned land in the rural areas, muddling their residency status.
Asked to estimate the number of times their offices were contacted about fraudulent voting, 32 state’s attorneys said “never” and nine claimed from one to five during their years of service. However, these contacts did not come from the election inspectors since none of them reported contacting the state’s attorney for such a purpose.
Only one of the state’s attorneys could recall a prosecution for voter fraud. This occurred in a rural township election when a heated campaign developed over a certain road for a school bus route. A farmer had moved to town but retained his voting residence in the township. The state’s attorney doubted the validity of such a practice, so when the ex-farmer voted, the state’s attorney prosecuted. The ex-farmer was acquitted.
While this survey is relatively old, we have accumulated no new evidence that North Dakota voters have become corrupt and the voting system needs redesigning to screen out election fraud. The facts say that there is no fraud.
It shouldn’t be difficult to understand why we can have fraud-free elections. First of all, the risk of being caught is very high in a small state where just about everyone knows everyone or is related to someone who knows everyone.
Second, there is no reasonable motive for illegal voting. Nobody is buying elections these days. Besides, people willing to risk their reputations for a $10 or $20 payoff would be difficult to find.
Third, the statistics show that the people of North Dakota are honest. They wouldn’t vote twice if they were given extra ballots.
House Bill 1447 was another one of those solutions for which there was no problem.
Omdahl, who lives in Grand Forks, is a retired University of North Dakota political science professor.