October 20th, 2008

Voter Fraud

I'm going to attempt a little non-partisan discussion of the question of voter fraud.

Elections, being a human endeavor, cannot be perfect.  There will always be legitimate voters who are prevented from voting and there will always be people who vote improperly.  Either of these can undermine the validity of the election if they are widespread, and both of them can undermine confidence that the election is valid, even if they are fairly rare, if people are convinced that they're happening.

What I want to get at is the question of which of the two is more important.  Setting aside the question of exactly who should be allowed to vote, where in principle should the balance be between being sure no one who is supposed to be allowed to vote is excluded and being sure no one who isn't does?  Is it better to turn away a hundred legitimate voters than to allow one fraudulent vote in?  Is it better to allow a hundred fraudulent votes in than to turn away one legitimate person?  Let's just imagine you're an election commissioner and you have a box of 100 ballots and there is a controversy about the box.  You know that some fraudulent ballots got put into the box along with some valid ones, but there is absolutely no way to tell which ones are which.  You must either accept the whole box or reject the whole box.  But you have learned the exact number of bogus ballots that got in the box.  If you accept the box, N illegal votes are counted.  If you reject it, 100-N legitimate voters lose their votes.  Where do you draw the line?  Other than who the votes are probably for, does the nature of the nature of the fraudulent votes affect your decision?  Does it matter who the voters who would be disenfranchised are?  Discuss.

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