Voter fraud: Right entails responsibility
Home is where the heart is. Under Utah election law, it's a little more complicated than that, but not much.
We raise the issue because of the voting fraud cases in Daggett County. The attorney general charged 51 people with registering to vote illegally in the 2006 election.
Of those, three pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, were fined $500 and got a suspended jail term of 30 days. Many others, it appears, will get off much lighter.
Some people who were charged with registering illegally own homes in that county, as well as on the Wasatch Front, and claim they were told by the Daggett County clerk that they could vote in one county or the other so long as they only voted once.
But Clerk Vicki McKee said in May that she did not tell people that was the case, and gave them a copy of the state code when they asked.
Which brings us to the state election code. It says, basically, that a person resides in a voting precinct, and is eligible to register there, if, on the date of registration, the person's principal residence is in the voting precinct. A principal residence is a person's fixed habitation, the place where, whenever a person is absent, he or she intends to return.
In other words, it's home. The law doesn't say anything about property ownership, such as a second home, qualifying someone to vote.
Admittedly, the law is wordy and complicated, but the definition of principal residence is what a fair-minded person would expect it to be.
We can understand how a voter could be confused. So we can see the fairness in the A.G.'s office offering to settle the cases of 28 of the 51 defendants with agreements which will make the misdemeanor charge against them go away if they do not commit any other crimes in the next six months.
Still, we believe that voting is a right that carries some responsibility. These charges arose because the losing candidate for sheriff, Allen Campbell, believed that votes illegally cast could have cost him the election. Only 594 votes were tallied and he lost by just 20. But because, fortunately, ballots are secret, and cannot be traced to individual voters, it is impossible to know whether improperly registered voters made the difference.
Because the integrity of the democratic process is at stake, voters should be the first ones to demand accountability in the registration process and vigorous enforcement when it is abused. We hope, if nothing else, that these prosecutions drive that point home.
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