Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Maryland voter fraud case proves -- and doesn't


John, a reader in Manassas, Va., writes that he thought of sending me a link to allegations of voter fraud involving a Democratic congressional candidate in Maryland.

“But I decided that you’re so far in the tank for the Democrats’ position on voter fraud, namely that there isn’t any, that…it wasn’t worth the effort. But you could look it up if you really do have an open mind on the matter.”

OK, John and other critics who think my mind is closed, this one’s for you.

And, hello, readers who think my mind is open, I hope you’ll read on too. Wherever you land, let me know what you think about the case.

First, let’s agree on one thing: Every single person who is eligible – and only everyone who’s eligible -- should be able to vote.

Wendy Rosen, a Democratic candidate for Congress, withdrew abruptly from Maryland’s 1st congressional district race this month after it was alleged that she voted in the 2006 general election and the 2008 presidential primaries in both Maryland and Florida.

After Maryland Democratic party officials learned of the dual-voting allegations from someone inside the party, they moved quickly. They confronted Rosen, urged her to quit the race and notified prosecutors in Florida and Maryland, who are investigating.

The good news is the system works. That’s exactly what should happen.

But what on earth was Rosen thinking? I contacted her and asked for an interview, but Rosen emailed that because the issues have been referred to prosecutors, this is “not a good time for a comment.”

Earlier she told Baltimore Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown that she was able to register to vote in Florida because she owns property there. She wanted to help a close friend who was running for City Council in St. Petersburg.

Asked if she voted in both states in the same elections, she said she didn’t remember. Asked if she voted twice in the 2008 primaries, she said she couldn’t comment because of “possible litigation,” the Sun reported.

Her quick exit and bad memory don’t look good for Rosen, 57, an accomplished businesswoman. But let’s see what the investigations turn up, whether she faces and whether she’s convicted of any charges.

In the meantime, here’s something about that rock on which voting is built: residency. It’s slippery.

Only residents of a state can vote in an election, right? Not always. Around the country, non-resident property owners have been fighting for and getting a voice in local elections. The owners want more of a say in property taxes and other issues, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.

Some states allow municipalities to make the call about who’s eligible to vote on local issues. The idea is to keep separate voter rolls from state elections.

No Maryland law prohibits state voters from registering to vote and casting ballots in local elections in other states, a Maryland election official told the Sun. Some jurisdictions in Maryland allow vacation-home owners in Maryland who live elsewhere to register and vote on local issues and offices. But only on local issues.

It’s illegal to vote more than once in a state or federal election.

The timing of the Rosen scandal hurt Maryland Democrats because Rosen quit after the deadline to put another Democrat’s name on the ballot. Democrats are planning a write-in campaign against incumbent Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican. He’s favored to win in a district that has been redrawn to help Republicans.

Republicans persist in believing that voter fraud is rampant, despite the fact that no studies back them up. A scandal of one – if the one is a Democratic candidate for Congress – is a gift to the GOP. In Annapolis, state Del. Mike McDermott dashed off a press release crowing that Rosen is “the perfect poster child” for voter fraud. The Florida Republican Party chairman called for Rosen’s prosecution under “the full force of our justice system.”

Whatever the investigations find, one thing the Rosen case does not prove is the need for the strict new photo ID laws that have been passed by many Republican state legislatures. Nothing indicates she was impersonating another voter, which is the only kind of fraud voter ID laws can catch.

Rosen apparently registered and voted as herself. The question is how often.

©2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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