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Americans are rightfully outraged by the recent sham Iranian election and massacre of demonstrators, who asked, “Where’s my votei” We should support these heroes. The brave Iranian example should also remind us to clean up long-overlooked troubles with our own electoral system, which is subject to fraud.
In New York City, names of once-legitimate voters still clog election registration rolls long after these voters have moved or died. Artificially bloated election rolls make our elections susceptible to fraud and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for minority party candidates to get onto the election ballot.
The same week as Iran’s election, New York’s “petition season” began. During this four-week period, candidates must collect signatures of, in most cases, 5 percent of voters registered in their party in their district in order to be placed on the ballot in November. To be safe from challenges, signatures from 10 percent are needed in practice.
Collecting signatures is not easy. Last weekend, a colleague and I traipsed through the rain, trying to obtain signatures from registered Republicans for a Queens City Council candidate. Four hours of non-stop effort yielded just four signatures. Doormen refused to let us into buildings, dozens of people were not home and others told us to go away and come back tomorrow.
We learned dozens of registered voters had moved. And we met widows and widowers who informed us that registered voters whose signatures we sought died years ago. We apologized, feeling awful about inadvertently reminding them of their losses. Sparing pain to deceased voters’ survivors is reason enough to update election rolls promptly.
Keeping no-longer-existent voters on election rolls can make the difficult task of meeting New York’s signature requirements impossible because the requirement is based on artificially high registration numbers. For instance, if 60 percent of a district’s 3,000 registered Republican voters have moved or died, candidates must collect 300 signatures from only 1,200 live voters — a daunting 25 percent of the actual Republican registration. That is tough when petitioners cannot even gain access to many apartment buildings.
Failing to purge election rolls also enables savvy fraudsters to vote multiple times by using departed voters’ names and makes fraudulent petitions difficult to spot. This type of forgery is difficult to detect when election rolls harbor signatures that should have been purged.
Unlike Iran’s citizens, we do not need to risk our lives to fix our electoral problems. We can just empower and require elections boards to promptly collect necessary information and update their records.
Former Congressional Candidate
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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