The Atlantic County Republican Committee wants the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to investigate possible vote fraud in November’s election. We don’t think the federal government will take the issue any more seriously than the state Attorney General’s Office, which already declined to look into the matter.
That’s too bad, because the Atlantic City mayor’s race offers a good opportunity to address election fraud where it matters most.
For a democracy to deserve the support of its citizens, its elections must be fair and represent the choices of its registered voters. Too often in America, parties and candidates try to rig the election apparatus instead of convincing a majority of legitimate voters to support them.
Chicago political boss Richard Daley held back much of the city’s vote in the 1960 presidential election until totals from around the state were known, and then released a count giving his party a win by less than 9,000 votes statewide. Irregularities in the use and performance of Diebold voting machines in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election raised serious doubts about the validity of the outcome favoring the Republican candidate. Just this year, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee described how the party’s primary process was rigged against candidate Bernie Sanders.
But most election fraud occurs at the local level, where schemes cast ballots by ineligible voters or in the names of people who aren’t actually making the vote choice themselves.
Atlantic City has a long history of election rigging. The favorite method lately has been absentee ballots gathered and brought to the polls by messengers, since government is poor at determining whether such ballots are actually from an eligible voter or reflect their knowing vote preferences.
The late Sen. Jim Whelan was re-elected mayor of Atlantic City at the polls in 2001, only to be defeated by the last-minute dump of about 1,500 messenger ballots.
When he got to the Legislature, Whelan managed to convince a majority that this avenue to rigging city elections doesn’t really serve good government or their political interests, and in 2009 the state restricted such ballots to 10 per messenger.
We said that was a start but not enough to ensure election integrity, but political and electoral officials assured everyone the voting process would be safeguarded. It wasn’t. Election riggers just field more messengers. Earlier this year another law was passed limiting messengers to three ballots each.
In last month’s Atlantic City race, Mayor Don Guardian accused supporters of candidate Frank Gilliam of preparing to cast about 2,000 fraudulent ballots. He said his investigators had found people being paid $30 each to produce their allotted three messenger ballots, presumably with the desired votes cast.
Guardian dropped his interest in pursuing the matter when Gilliam defeated him at the polls, making the messenger ballots moot.
But that actually makes this case a good one to pursue. Since the results of an investigation wouldn’t bear on the outcome of an election, the probe and consideration of its findings could stay focused on ways to improve the integrity of elections.
Information technology has made new kinds and greater amounts of fraud possible in commerce, and business and government have responded vigorously.
Government needs to take election fraud seriously, especially since its use and understanding of information technology is poor compared to the private sector.
The county Republicans’ effort may not get anywhere, but eventually government at all levels will need to better guarantee that votes are being cast by legally qualified individuals knowingly choosing their preferred candidates and referendum responses. Ensuring the integrity of elections is necessary for the people’s confidence in government.