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'Motor Voter' Helps Drive Out Fraud

Democracy: When used correctly, the new law easing registration doesn't increase the opportunity for election cheating, it reduces it.

June 15, 1997|JEAN ASKHAM | Jean Askham is president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County. She writes from Fullerton

Ever since former U.S. Rep. Bob Dornan raised the issue of possible voter fraud as a factor in his defeat, there have been cries of indignation over the ease of registration--accompanied by proposals for restrictive measures on both registering and voting absentee. Such is the irrational nature of the outcry that the new "motor voter" law has been blamed for fostering potential system abuses that it actually helps prevent.

Those who would return to the days when a person had to appear in person to be registered should welcome motor voter because it adds convenient, in-person registration whenever one applies for a driver's license or social service benefits or signs up at a military recruiting office. A driver's license renewal or change of address also provides a simultaneous opportunity to register or re-register if needed. Eventually, registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, where you appear in person and have your picture taken as well, will be the most convenient and most used voter registration system.

One of the voting scams most feared is that fictitious persons could be registered by mail and then vote absentee for the rest of their nonexistent lives, thus escaping detection. Motor voter can make that particular scam impossible. It gives every state the option of requiring anyone who has registered by mail to vote in person at the polls.

The voter rolls contain the names of many who no longer live at the address from which they are registered. This "deadwood" averaged about 25% in 1985 when the League of Women Voters did a survey of selected precincts at the request of the secretary of state. Deadwood exists because information on deaths and moves is not sent to the registrar of voters in a timely fashion and because registrars may not have the staff to clean up the lists.

This is more a financial problem than a fraud problem. It costs counties money to provide sample ballots and election materials for the entire list. Motor voter helps reduce the deadwood because it offers several additional allowable ways to get change-of-address notices and it permits registrars to move to an "inactive list" the names of those who have neither voted in a long time nor responded to address verification requests.

Motor voter, for the first time in the nation's history, gives residents of every state an equal chance to register without encountering discriminatory bureaucratic roadblocks on the path to the polls. It does not increase the opportunity for fraud; it reduces it.

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