Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Misunderstandings of election laws don't help

The letter to Secretary of State Sam Reed and letter to the editor posted by “Paul” in a comment at Sound Politics (and attributed to Cris Shardelman) illustrate why it is often best for us amateurs to follow the cautionary advice “don’t try this at home.”

The objection raised in the letter to Reed is incorrect:

Dear Secretary Reed:

The Constitution Article 6, Section 1A is very clear that the homeless had no right to vote on any candidacy other than the President and Vice-President during this disputed election.

There is nothing unconstitutional about the WA law allowing the “homeless” to vote in the precincts in which they live. And, there is nothing in the constitution or the law which restricts the “homeless” residents of WA from voting for all offices and measures on the ballot.

According to WA constitution Article VI, section 1, the “homeless” people who registered to vote in the precincts that they considered to be their permanent places of residence are entitled to vote for all offices and measures on the ballot – provided that they established residence in the state, county and precinct at least 30 days before the election (and, of course, provided that they are citizens who are at least 18 years of age and who aren’t convicted felons who have lost their right to vote).

Here is the text of Article VI, section 1:

SECTION 1 QUALIFICATIONS OF ELECTORS. All persons of the age of eighteen years or over who are citizens of the United States and who have lived in the state, county, and precinct thirty days immediately preceding the election at which they offer to vote, except those disqualified by Article VI, section 3 of this Constitution, shall be entitled to vote at all elections.

Article VI, section 1A of the WA constitution simply provides for eligibility to vote for presidential electors when voters have established residence in the state, county and precinct less than 30 days before the election. If they had established residence in the state at least 60 days before the election, then it doesn’t matter that they moved to a different place of residence in the state within the 30 days prior to the election.

Here is the text of Article VI, section 1A:

SECTION 1A VOTER QUALIFICATIONS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. In consideration of those citizens of the United States who become residents of the state of Washington during the year of a presidential election with the intention of making this state their permanent residence, this section is for the purpose of authorizing such persons who can meet all qualifications for voting as set forth in section 1 of this article, except for residence, to vote for presidential electors or for the office of President and Vice-President of the United States, as the case may be, but no other: Provided, That such persons have resided in the state at least sixty days immediately preceding the presidential election concerned.

Thirty days as a resident may seem like a short time, but consider the purpose for any such limit. Imagine busloads of voters departing on election day from districts where one party has an overwhelming advantage and going to districts where their political opponents have a slim edge – all so they can vote in those other districts and ensure the election of their political allies. Get the picture?

This part of Shardelman’s letter to the editor is incorrect:

Section 4 reserved the absentee ballots for those in civil or military service of the state or the United States, students at any institution of learning, those kept at public expense at any poor house or other asylum, while confined to public prison (not infamous crimes) and those engaged in navigation of the seas.

Article VI, section 4, simply provides for the retention of a person’s permanent residence for voting eligibility despite that person’s temporary absence. It does not define or limit a person’s eligibility to vote by absentee ballot or by mail-in ballot.

Here is the text of Article VI, section 4:

SECTION 4 RESIDENCE, CONTINGENCIES AFFECTING. For the purpose of voting and eligibility to office no person shall be deemed to have gained a residence by reason of his presence or lost it by reason of his absence, while in the civil or military service of the state or of the United States, nor while a student at any institution of learning, nor while kept at public expense at any poor-house or other asylum, nor while confined in public prison, nor while engaged in the navigation of the waters of this state or of the United States, or of the high seas.

Think of your “residence” as a state of mind – it is the place you would live if you weren’t required to be elsewhere temporarily because of job or business requirements, civil or military service for the state or federal government, matriculation at a school or college, etc.

There is clearly a need to take a close look at both our election laws and the manner in which public officials and employees carried out those laws, but going off halfcocked with invalid complaints about the constitutionality of the laws won’t help.


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