WASHINGTON -- Not since the election of 1800, the first in which one party displaced another from the presidency, has there been such anxiety about voting. In 1800 there were fears that the losing side would resort to arms. Today's worry concerns a cloud of locust-like lawyers asserting novel theories that purport to demonstrate that sensible rules, such as requiring voters to have identification, are illegal, even unconstitutional.
This locust litigation will erupt around any close election -- any not won beyond ``the margin of litigation.'' The lawyering, which has already begun, will attack rules designed to defeat a banal and familiar phenomenon -- old-fashioned fraud. Concerning which, there is a timely and disturbing new book, ``Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy'' by John Fund of The Wall Street Journal.
Even though the 1992 election saw the largest percentage increase in voter turnout since 1952, Bill Clinton quickly sought to address the supposed ``crisis'' of nonparticipation with the National Voter Registration Act -- aka ``Motor Voter.'' It, Fund says, imposed ``fraud-friendly'' rules on the states, requiring them, for example, to register to vote anyone receiving a driver's license, and to offer mail-in registration with no identification required.
Given such measures, perhaps we should not be surprised that, as Fund reports, since 1995, Philadelphia's population has declined 13 percent but registered voters have increased 24 percent. Are we sure we should we be pleased?
The unexamined belief that an ever-higher rate of voter registration is a Good Thing has met its limit in the center of the state that this year is the center of the political universe -- Ohio. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2003 estimate is that in Franklin County -- Columbus -- there are approximately 815,000 people 18 or over. But 845,720 are now registered.
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