The latest revelations that illegal votes may have given Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) his 312-vote margin of victory in his 2008 Senate race—out of the nearly 3 million votes cast—gives one pause. The fact that 243 people have already been convicted or are awaiting trial on voter fraud underscores a persistent concern that, despite their small share of the vote, ineligible ballots can actually swing results.
Despite this, Eric Holder’s Justice Department is pulling out all the stops to defeat the passage of state voter ID laws, arguing that they place an undue burden that could result in some eligible voters being disenfranchised. Partisans on both sides have genuinely arguable points but arguments are a waste of time since each side is unpersuadable, having long ago stopped listening to the other.
Given the strong perception that both ineligible voters and voters too lazy to get an ID will preponderantly support Democrats, clear principles take a back seat to raw power politics.
So is there a compromise that can satisfy both tribes?
Sure there is. We can take our cue from countries where democratic institutions are so precarious that warring tribes often resort to bullets when ballot results don’t go their way. It’s time to do the ink thing.
Dipping a finger in indelible ink to show that you have voted may sound primitive, but it’s quite fitting given the deplorable state of our politics. Sure, it may not stop ineligible voters from filling out a ballot—at least not right away—but walking around with a blue finger for the three or four days it takes for the ink to wear off will give the wider community plenty of opportunity to identify voters who really shouldn’t have. All it takes is a hot line to tip off prosecutors and you’ve empowered 300 million people to keep their eyes and ears open for cheaters. It takes a village, right?
Will this eliminate all voter fraud? Probably not. Nothing seems to discourage dead people from voting in places like Chicago. But it will certainly eliminate duplicate voting along, along with all those stories about college students being bused up to New Hampshire to visit multiple polling places. Plus the deterrent effect of potential after-the-fact prosecution shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly if the offending voter is an illegal alien wary of deportation.
Legitimate voters have nothing to fear and every reason to celebrate. A blue finger on Election Day could be elevated into a sign of civic virtue, advertising to the world that you have done your duty as a responsible citizen. Starbucks and Chik-fil-A could offer a free bottle of water to anyone stopping by with a blue finger. And can’t you just see those politically engaged Hollywood celebrities lining up to do public service ads?
Lack of a blue finger would also expose non-voters to peer pressure. That could be either a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. In a worst case scenario, people who truly do not want to vote and prefer not to be bullied by busybodies can always dip their fingers in the privacy of their own home if they’re that desperate to be left alone.
While it is unlikely that finger dipping will ever sweep the nation, it would be an interesting test case to watch a state give it a try. On what pretext would Eric Holder sue? Violation of the right to keep it a secret that you voted? That would be quite a stretch coming from the same administration that recently launched an iPhone app that tells party partisans who among their neighbors are registered Democrats, presumably so they can hound them for money and drive them to the polls on Election Day.
The time to address these issues is now, before we have another disputed election. The only thing worse than a runaway democracy is a runaway democracy in which people have lost confidence in the electoral process.