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Your vote, is it a right, a privilege or a responsibility? The short answer is "yes," it is all three. It is a right guaranteed to all citizens by the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th amendments to the Constitution. It is a privilege we are all blessed with because we were born or became a citizen in a country that honors individual rights over the whims of the government (at least for now). And, it is a responsibility that our Founders expected us to exercise with thoughtful wisdom.

But a right can be abused. We all have the right to free speech, but that right can be violated by, for example, yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, according to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. You can breach your right to vote by voting more than once in any particular election. And you ask, how big of a problem is this? It depends on whom you ask.

There are some who say voter fraud is as rare as getting struck by lightening. Of course, these people, who include our Attorney General Eric Holder, point to the sparse number of successful prosecutions for voter fraud in the United States. This does not capture the incidents of voter fraud, however; it only captures the ones who have been caught. Others will suggest those caught represent a small fraction of actual violations. We miss many abusers because we simply are not looking for them.

A recent study in North Carolina found more than 35,000 people registered to vote in two states. They found 13,000 dead people still on the voting register and 81 deceased people who actually voted in the last election. Other studies have suggested that the real voter fraud occurs through abuse of absentee ballots. Obviously, there is more abuse than our government leaders think, which is why 74 percent of Americans are in favor of using voter ID laws to protect the sanctity of the ballot.

While I don't think voter impersonation is a big source of the fraud, I think the requirement of voter ID would be an important step in winning back confidence in our voting process. Almost 90 percent of Americans already have the required photo IDs via their driver's license, student ID cards, etc.

We need to insure, however, that every person can acquire these ID's with a minimal effort. I support the proposal that the state or federal government make these available for free. Now, I am not a big money spender, but this is one example of an expense I would support in order to mend the mistrust our voters have in our electoral process.

Everyone in this country has to provide a photo ID to buy alcohol or cigarettes or to apply for welfare or food stamps (among other things). Isn't the right to vote worth the minimal effort to go to the driver's license bureau or other governmental office and apply for a free voter ID card?

A life rule is, "when there is no cost to something, that thing soon becomes worthless." Is that the way we want people to think about their vote?

And all this could be done without suppressing one vote. The Government Accountability Office looked at 10 studies of voter ID laws. Five of those studies showed no difference in turnout. Four studies showed a minimal impact, which could have been caused by other things, and one actually showed an increase in turnout. With a little education and effort we could improve the integrity of our electoral process and even expand voter turnout. That is truly my wish.

We also need harsher penalties for voter fraud (a $200 fine is just not sufficient). Make that fine $10,000 and we might have an impact on non-citizen voting and absentee ballot abuse, which is where the real fraud action is.

Finally, we must take our responsibility to vote seriously. We must understand the issues and know the positions of our candidates on each of them. Thomas Jefferson warned that one of the greatest threats to the Republic and to liberty itself was "an uninformed electorate".

The Founder Fathers expected "the people" to be the ultimate check on government abuse. They were depending on us to be "the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." Let's not let them or ourselves down.

So, vote this Tuesday. It is your right, privilege and responsibility. But first, study the real positions of the candidates on the issues. Look at both sides of the political equation. There is wisdom and extremism on both sides. Sift through the mountains of negative commercials and personal attacks to find the crumbs of truth that will help you make your decision.

And remember, "Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uniformed and uninvolved people," said Thomas Jefferson.


Commentary on 11/02/2014

Print Headline: Dead Men Tell No Tales, But Often Vote

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