Cooper: Ensuring election security

Tennessee voters are shown casting their ballots at the Dupont precinct at The Gathering Church in Hixson last November.

Democrats across the country try every trick in the book to elect more of their own to office. That's understandable, as long as they play by the rules.

But that's been the problem. They don't want to do that. Instead, they want to abolish the Electoral College, elect presidents by a popular vote, forego the need for IDs to vote, have one person fill out ballots for multiple people and have people register to vote on Election Day (a policy already in effect in 17 states and the District of Columbia).

A bill in the Tennessee General Assembly wants to stop another of those practices before it becomes entrenched. That is what happened in Shelby County last fall when its election commission received thousands of registration forms from one organization on the last day to register to vote.

We won't speculate about the motive of the individual organization that turned in the forms, but it's not hard to understand what a motive in doing so would be. It would assume the election commission would be so overwhelmed with the number of forms turned in that it would just OK them without making sure the registrants could legally vote.

That way, dead people could return to life and vote, non-legal citizens could cast a ballot, and individuals who did not meet residency requirements could be eligible. And if it made a difference of 100, 50 or 25 votes, hey, elections have been won by fewer tallies.

The proposed legislation aims to enhance election security in several ways, most but not all of which we find sound. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is expected to receive full votes in both chambers.

The measure we believe is most reasonable is requiring applications collected by designated people or organizations to be filed within 10 days after a voter registration drive or at least within 10 days of the voter registration deadline. Election commissions register voters. That is their job. But it is not reasonable for election commissions to have to hire extra workers or pay hundreds of hours of overtime to accommodate thousands of last-minute registrations by one organization.

In the case of the organization in Shelby County last fall, some of the registration forms had been filled out weeks and even months before.

Some of the forms, according to state election coordinator Mark Goins, had only first names, others had incorrect Social Security numbers and some had the names of deceased people.

It takes time and attention to detail to run down the proper information for even one of these misfiled registration forms - which is our argument against same-day registration - so one could imagine how much time it would take to process hundreds of them.

We believe two other bill tenets, requiring supplemental voter registration drives of 100 people or more to be conducted only by a person trained on how to properly complete applications and protect confidential information, and prohibiting organizations from paying individuals based on the number of voter registration forms submitted to the organization, are also practical and fair.

Language in the bill suggests training would be developed by the state coordinator of election and may be offered online. We would like to see that amended to the training being offered both online and in person.

As to the aspect of paying people based on the number of registration forms they submit, we believe that is antithetical to the precious freedom of voting that we enjoy and only increases the potential for hurried, wrong and fictional information to be recorded by the paid worker.

Several other parts of the measure deal with organizations and individuals who send out or hand out material regarding voter registration and the language they sometimes use to trick voters, divulge personal information or purport that their material came with the imprimatur of the Tennessee secretary of state.

The portion of the bill we have the most trouble with is permitting the State Election Commission to assess civil penalties to people or organizations that submit large numbers of deficient forms. In some cases, we believe we can unquestionably state, the motives in submitting multiple forms at the last minute are not pure. But we have no doubt some are, and we blanch at fining individuals or groups from trying to do the right thing.

Instead, perhaps, should a group or individual submit large numbers of incorrect forms, the person or the group's participants should have to repeat their training. Or maybe they could receive a warning for a first offense, and then a suspension of a year or more for a second offense. Indeed, there may be other instructive ways in which to educate such groups or individuals without firing them.

Tennessee, in recent history, has a poor record of its citizens voting. We're all for changing that, albeit by citizens properly registering to vote and voting. We don't need to compound our poor voting record by attempting to "stuff" the election commissions, though. We believe this bill, with amendments regarding the penalties, can help prevent that.