Would the IRS encourage people of undetermined backgrounds to stand outside shopping malls and grocery stores and offer to mail residents' completed tax returns just weeks before the filing deadline? Would the DMV want these same people to set up camp in front of libraries and post offices and hand out change-of-address forms, then offer to submit them to the state, as required by law?
Moreover, would you take up these strangers on their offers to handle your government business and personal information?
Of course you wouldn't. Yet local and state governments allow just about anyone to sign up citizens for the privilege of exercising one of their most precious rights: the right to vote.
Every election year, partisan operatives, nonprofit groups and civic-minded folks walk into the offices of county registrars across the country and walk out with thousands upon thousands of blank voter registration forms. Citizens from all segments of society complete paperwork with their personal information and political persuasion and trust that these strangers will deliver the form to election officials to complete the process.
But sometimes, no one fills out the applications because the canvassers want it that way. Rather than seek out real people who'll make their own choices on Election Day, the application circulators complete the forms themselves with made up names. They might be trying to meet a quota. Or they might be trying to stuff the ballot box in favor of a particular candidate or agenda.
The question isn't whether such loose voter registration practices lead to election fraud. The question is exactly how much fraud results.
It wasn't surprising when, on Tuesday, state officials served search warrants on the Las Vegas office of ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- over allegations that its employees falsified voter registration forms. According to the secretary of state's office, they weren't especially imaginative, applying bogus names to addresses, or real names to bogus addresses.
"Some of these were facially fraudulent," Secretary of State Ross Miller said. "We basically had the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo is not registered to vote in Nevada. Anyone trying to pose as Terrell Owens won't be able to cast a ballot."
Hopefully, the state's investigation will uncover the motive behind the fraud. ACORN officials, who say they aim to get low-income citizens to the polls, maintain they flagged suspect applications for the county and provided the names of the canvassers who submitted them, but that authorities didn't respond to the concerns.
That ACORN is a liberal organization with ties to Democratic Party causes and presidential candidate Barack Obama is a secondary concern here. Conservative groups sympathetic to Republican interests engage in plenty of funny business, too. Recall the 2002 election, when GOP Assembly candidate Gary Horrocks tried to have acquaintances who lived outside his Las Vegas district vote for him with absentee ballots sent directly to his bar. He was convicted of election fraud.
What should most alarm people of every party is the lack of even modest safeguards throughout the election process, from registration through ballot casting, that encourages this type of activity. It is not unreasonable to expect all eligible citizens to get in their cars, or hop aboard a bus, or walk or ride a bike to a government office and submit a voter registration application in person, with all required documentation, to uphold the integrity of our elections.
Making voter registration applications available to anyone who wants a stack is an invitation to fraud and a disservice to taxpayers who value the power of their single vote.
Voters who trust their applications with strangers can't be certain their forms won't be discarded because of party affiliation or any other reason. Why would they take that chance when they wouldn't think of handing over their stamped mortgage bill to the same person?
Yes, authorities appear to have stopped this effort to muck up the voter registration rolls, just as they caught onto the scam perpetrated by Horrocks. But how many have they missed?