Undoubtedly, Clark County elections officials erred. And while the mistake regarding voter rolls appears to have been an oversight rather than some nefarious subterfuge — and while the issue apparently has been cleared up — it presents an important opportunity to discuss the nation’s election systems.
In September, officials were notified by advocacy group Public Interest Legal Foundation that an inordinate number of people were or had been registered to vote in Clark County. Using numbers reported to the federal government, the county had 351,953 voting-age residents in 2016. But Clark County reported 273,240 “active” voters and 205,233 “inactive” voters to the Electoral Assistance Commission — a total of 478,473.
Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber says she entered the number of “nonactive” voters instead of “inactive” voters, which is closer to 30,000. “Nonactive” voters include those who have died, moved away, or could not provide verifiable identification. “I just entered the wrong info,” Garber told The Columbian. “But it had big repercussions.”
Indeed, it did. Although the issue has been distressing for county officials, the diligence of the Public Interest Legal Foundation is to be applauded. Election integrity is an essential part of democracy; when public trust is undermined, the entire system is damaged. Faith in the legitimacy of elections provides a stable foundation for our governments.
Under Greg Kimsey, Clark County auditor since 1999, local elections have been conducted with integrity. Unless additional information is presented, there is little reason to believe that officials intentionally undermined the system.
Still, the issue of possible voter fraud has become a touchstone in modern politics. Following last year’s presidential election, Donald Trump insinuated that he would have won the popular vote if millions of people had not illegally cast ballots. Trump won the Electoral College and the presidency, but Hillary Clinton received about 3 million more votes in the popular election.
Trump did not have proof to support his claim, so he created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. That commission has not divulged any proof of fraud, has not met since Sept. 12 and has no meetings scheduled, and is being sued by one of its members in an attempt to learn what the commission is doing. Another member, J. Christian Adams, is president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
Meanwhile, a close examination of the 2016 election in Washington state revealed 74 possible cases of voter fraud, with most of them being people who might have voted in two states. “We are continually vigilant to protect the integrity of the voting rolls and the public’s confidence in elections,” said Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican. “We work closely with local elections officials, and when we find credible evidence that illegal voting activity has taken place, we turn it over for further investigation.”
Oversight of voter rolls by both government officials and private advocacy groups is important for maintaining election integrity. But governments must be cautious about the kind of broad-based scrubbing of registrations preferred by some groups. For example, prior to the 2000 presidential election, under orders from the Legislature, Florida officials used a name-matching program that inadvertently left thousands of eligible voters unable to cast ballots.
That should be a bigger affront to our sensibilities than a Clark County official mistakenly entering the wrong number on a form.